Dementia… Visiting Geoffrey.

Geoffrey, sound of mind, caring and capable.

I am not new to Dementia. The first occasion of becoming involved was some years ago now. A Reader I often ministered with, someone I admired, a retired seaman and a man to be trusted, started acting a little odd. He also became aggressive with friends, although he was always all right with me. Then the word Alzheimers was mentioned. I had little idea then what the disease was all about, but I soon found out when I visited him and his wife in their home. It did not take long to realize the stress his wife was under. I found out about others suffering the same fate. It was then I set up a carers’ group. At one of our earlier meetings two doctors came to answer our questions. Later, the local Dementia consultant gave us a talk with a questions session. Sometimes the group just chatted over a cuppa, and sometimes one of our number would give an interesting illustrated talk.
As part of my pastoral duties I would also visit care homes for dementia sufferers. Then my mother became ill with a form of dementia with paranoia. The illness has nothing to do with keeping one’s mind active. Present day research gives hope for an eventual cure.

Last week I visited my old one-time friend and theology tutor. He has dementia and lives in a nursing home. So very sad to see a priest and man of letters reduced to what he has become: terribly anxious, afraid of doing the wrong thing. In his mind he was expecting to be part of a service. Not knowing where he actually was, he kept asking questions about the people around him and if he would be getting a co-worker. He didn’t want to be late or found wanting. “Well,” he said, “when I’m asked, I’ll be ready.” My words meant nothing to him, that which he had fixed in his mind refused to budge.
His meal arrived; a dried-out fried egg and chunky chips. I had to reassure him that it was his meal. He looked at it, unsure how to eat what was in front of him and whether he should be eating it anyway. He asked my permission to eat each mouthful, —stuffing the chips and the egg into his mouth mostly with his fingers. “Hell” he said at one point when a piece of chip got away.
He continually asked about his wife, each time experiencing the grief of loss when told that she died last year.
Once he said, “No, you are not being honest with me are you?” The pain written on his face, before moving on to other matters. “I’m ready to do my part when asked. Are my co-workers here?”
I told him the day was Tuesday, not Sunday, hoping that might make a difference to his thinking. All I got was a look of bewilderment. “Not Sunday?” I rather think a resident playing the piano had sparked something off in his brain. He was not able to grasp where he actually was. I thought the workers there to be angels even if the place appeared to be far removed from heaven.
Hoping to prompt a tiny spark of memory as to who I am, I showed him a photograph of us robed for a Christmas service at a local church.
He looked at it as I talked. It was taken over ten years ago. He didn’t catch the name of the church and kept guessing at what I said, louder and louder until we were both shouting. I had forgotten he was a bit deaf but at least he was interested enough to want to know what I had told him. The name of the church meant nothing to him.
He still kept asking about his wife. He wanted her there beside him. Would he recognise her even if she miraculously entered the room? I doubt it. Before she died, my mother frequently mentioned my adored brother, but when he flew over from California especially to see her, she completely rejected him. In her mind she could see him on the television being arrested by police.
The loveliest thing about visiting my friend Geoffrey happened when I was about to leave.
“Thank you for coming to seem me,” he said with a little smile. This indeed was the Geoffrey I knew and loved. I usually manage to get a little laugh or smile out of him sometime during one my visits, this time he had saved that pleasure until the last moment.
Of course my own mother always comes to mind when visiting anyone with dementia, and the terrible suffering she went through is never far away.
(See last post)

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2 Responses to “Dementia… Visiting Geoffrey.”

  1. geoffnelder Says:

    A moving article. Well written from the heart.

  2. Damyanti Says:

    This is heart-rending.

    My aunt suffered from dementia in her last year, but we later came to know it was not Alzheimers but leukemia that had eaten into her brain.

    A terrifying fate, one that I wouldn’t wish on my enemies.

    Couldn’t have been an easy visit…and this post may not be easy to write either. Hugs, Gladys.

    #Respect.

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