I had another beautiful day in the sun with Bernie. When I arrived, Bernie and her friends were outside getting ready for the exercise class that we almost always go to together, but this time the chairs were set up outside. Bernie always lights up when we go outside, so I knew how happy she was to be doing the exercises out in the garden. When I arrived, like last week, I saw recognition in her eyes. She immediately introduced me to everyone and said, “This is my good friend. Sweetheart, what is your name again?” I put my arm around her and told her my name is Rachel and she told me that it was on the tip of her tongue! Each time I go, I can see more and more recognition in her eyes, which I did not expect would happen with Alzheimer’s patients.
I sat down on the patio chair next to Bernie and we had some time to catch up before the class started. She reminded me where she is from and what her past career was and I reminded her about where I go to school and where I am from. The more I ask about her, the more she asks about me; she is always genuinely interested in my life and says a heartfelt “So, what’s new in school?” every time I see her. I told her about a research project I am working on in my Anthropology class and she offered to help me out in any way. She reminded me that she has her masters in both education and guidance counseling, which took many years of school. The biggest thing she learned and advices me to do is to “keep on keeping on.” I told her about my summer plans and she told me that, no matter how busy life is, the first thing I should always do is hug my mother. The exercise class started and she sang along to some of the oldies songs with a few other patients. Bernie is very particular about making sure she is doing the movements correctly so she always loves verification from me. Not only is she concerned about her own movements, however. She cares so much about everyone around her and is not shy to correct them if they are wrong (it makes me laugh!).
Before I left, I assured her that I would be back next week and she held my hand while telling me happy she is when I am next to her. Comments like these feel rewarding and loving, which are the reasons why I look forward to my visits so much. I blew her a kiss and she blew one back and I walked away with a warm feeling.
- Rachel Gross