Most of us live in a world that is ruled by clocks and calendars. We live with one foot in the present and the other foot in the future. Rarely do we reflect on the past. Time spent reminiscing is limited to a few holidays, family get-togethers and the occasional flashback triggered by a song on a playlist or radio.
People living with dementia become separated from the constraints of clocks and calendars. The urgency that once drove their days fades. To spend meaningful time with my clients I need to step into their worlds because they no longer have an attachment to the present, much less the future. They are time travelers re-tracing their past. Reminiscing is a mostly pleasant pastime. They find comfort in the music of their generation, the innocence of children, the unconditional love of a pet, the kindness of a caregiver, the simplicity of holding hands.
People with dementia are teachers for those of us that share their days. This week I had a master class on the relevancy of schedules and time.
My client Essie had a 3:00pm medical appointment. In my world this meant a 2:15p arrival at her memory care community and a 2:30p departure. When I found Essie in the activity room she said hello then led me to the courtyard door. “I would like to go outside but I won’t go by myself”, she said. We found an aide to unlock the door. The mums needed to be watered and the dead blooms needed to be clipped. Silly me, marching to my ticking clock, picked up the pace, subtly (I thought) introduced my PLAN and timetable, while hurriedly filling the watering can. That sense of urgency, my IMPATIENCE, changed our dynamic instantly. The beauty of a sunny afternoon, the shared pleasure of gardening, the NOW of the moment all but disappeared.
From Essie’s perspective, who was I to roll into her home and her afternoon activity and tell her what she needed to do?! I redirected myself to her world, understanding that she can no longer meet me in mine. I stepped to a corner of the garden, called the doctor’s office and explained the circumstances. I rescheduled Essie’s routine appointment – no big deal at all. Then I re-joined Essie who was watering plants and talking to the flowers as though they were her babies. We spent nearly 2 hours gardening companionably, sharing stories and a few laughs under a Carolina blue sky on a near-perfect autumn afternoon.
From IMPATIENT to I’M PATIENT, thank you Essie for the well-taught lesson.