Monday, January 4, 2016

Patron Saint of Alzheimer's and Dementia ........................................... Remembering to Pray!

When I graduated from high school and went away to a private women's college, I was amazed and overshadowed by the number of brilliant, self possessed and attractive women around me.  It was the norm, not the exception at Stephens College.  Born in a small Southern Oregon town and raised raised on a ranch 12 miles from a store, I was humbled when I realized I was a nondescript fish in the well stocked pond known as college.  Even though I knew milk came from cows not cartons, that cattle get butchered in order for us to eat steak and vegetables came from gardens, instead of cans it didn't help my status one bit around those incredibly talented brainy women.    

I developed a lasting friendship with one of those exceptional women.  She was attractive, an excellent scholar and member of the debate team with an acerbic wit.  She could shame Einstein with her extensive vocabulary, often leaving me sneaking a look in the dictionary after a conversation.  It was a rare evening when I could win a game of scrabble.  And not once did I suspect she would  be diagnosed with early onset dementia caused by Alzheimer's in her 50's and slowly become a totally different person.

In my mother's case, I expected that by 101, she would have some confusion but nothing prepared me for the fear and anxiety that not knowing created for her.  After 5:00 in the evening my mother would start to get anxious.  She worried about getting home in time to fix dinner even though she was home and hadn't been able to cook dinner in years.  She was worried where my father was even though he had been dead for over 25 years.  Lengthy explanations to correct her thinking only made the situation worse.   

I learned to listen for the common denominator of her concerns.  All of them had to do with strangers verses family, anxiety versus security, fear versus safety.  Home meant being with people she recognized.  Fixing dinner was the way she showed her loved.  Wondering the whereabouts of my long dead father told me she needed to feel loved with a reassuring hug.  The less said the better.  As words failed, my mother developed a heightened ability to read my facial expressions and body language.  Smiling into her eyes, holding her hand and putting my arm around her spoke to her in a way words no longer did.  I had to enter into her world since she could no longer function in mine.     

Antique St. Anthony Shadow Box
My friend's memory issues are different then my 101 year old mother's dementia but the things they crave seem to be the same.  Safety, security, love, familiar people, not having to be confused by questions or corrected or lectured for not knowing.....As words escaped them both, they needed the comfort of laughter and touch more than ever.  As I've watched the disease progress with first my mother and now my friend, I have had to summoned the intersession of several saints a number of times to selfishly ease my own sense of loss.

St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Items, has gone beyond the call in helping find lost grocery money hidden in the dry dog food bag, a phone hidden in a shoe box and placed in the freezer, keys wrapped and rubber banded in layers of paper towels put in the trash, hearing aides planted in a flower pot and on and on.  Sadly, the only thing St. Anthony hasn't been able to help find is a lost mind.

St. Rita in Reclaimed Shrine from Chris Hart Studio
Sometimes, I cautiously ask St. Rita, the Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and Difficult Situations, to lend assistance, knowing I need to be careful of what I ask.  I have learned through St. Rita's story that the consequences of getting what you want can be fraught with a whole new set of problems. I am happy my friend is taking a dementia medication but with that her acerbic wit I so enjoyed has vanished.  I prayed my friend could forget her grudge against her brother for taking her car away but with that washing her hair and clothes is no longer important either.  I wish that my friend could still log onto her computer and read my blog but if she could do that she would be walking her dog, losing her way home once again. St. Rita reminds us to gratefully live in the present because Alzheimer's is on no one's schedule.

St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, is the saint to pray to when Alzheimer's seems impossible and the only answer seems to be no answer, when everything points to hopelessness and solutions seem nonexistent.  St. Jude helps us shoulder the burden and reminds us to let go of trying to control the uncontrollable nature of Alzheimer's.  Once you put your faith in St. Jude, he can clear the path for us to accept that Alzheimer's has a life of it's own, that "unexpected" is its middle name and whatever happens was meant to be.

When I visited my dear friend last week, she amazed me with memories of our college days.  She could remember the outfit I wore on a blind date in the 1971, the name of the building where the college "mixers" were held and the reading list from the English 101 class we had together, all details long forgotten to me. But I still know what I wore yesterday, I can remember what I ate for lunch today and I know what a key is used to for.  My friend does not.  The saints are there to help us both.
All you have to do is remember to pray.