The woman in the window
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We've all seen the stories. A nursing home resident pressed against the glass to be close to a family member. A husband reaching out to touch his wife in an Alzheimer’s home, the glass keeping them apart. We've cried at the images and wondered about the hurt.
Over the weekend, that hurt hit home.
I didn't really think what the impact would be when my mother's birthday arrived March 28. Her 84th birthday. A day on which we always spend some time together - until now.
A text to me from a caregiver and a photo started the day: “Happy Birthday Betty. We are well. She had a shower and is ready for cake later. Hope you are well.”
That text led me to tears. I’m not sure why that hit me so hard, but this pandemic emotional roller coaster we're all riding doesn't stop for birthdays or any other key moments in life.
We devised a simple plan. I would make a sign and put it on the window. Her caregiver was sure my mom would see it and read it.
My husband and I showed up at the Alzheimer’s home with our sign and headed to the back yard. We peered through the sliding glass door. That's when I saw my mom inside, sitting in a chair. It's been three weeks since we’ve been in the same room together. Another stop on the roller coaster.
Through tears, we frantically waved as we taped up our sign, hoping to catch her attention. Mom lifted her hand and waved and flashed a smile. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know who we were - she never does. If you have a family member with dementia you understand.
Her caregiver got her across the room and to the glass.
Yelling through the glass, my husband loudly introduced ourselves as “your daughter Linda and your son-in-law Mark.” She smiled. "We love you," he said.
Mom turned to her caregiver and questioned, "They love me?".
Yes, Betty, they do.
We didn’t stay long. Lunch was on the table and Mom was getting confused about why the two strangers at the window weren’t coming inside.
Bye, Mom. Happy Birthday. We love you.
When we got home, there was another text.
“Betty was happy to see you. Hope you guys have a good day.”
Happy for a moment. That's all you get with Alzheimer’s. It's a cruel disease and this crisis only adds to its cruelty.
The kindness comes from the caregivers. The true heroes. The people who hold you up as you wobble off the roller coaster one more time.
This crisis will end. We'll come out on the other side.
I and many other people like me will again be able to sit by the side of our our loved ones. Hold their hands, tell them that we love them and kiss them goodbye.
It's what they need and what they deserve.
The Alzheimer's Association has a 24/7 Helpine 800-272-3900. Help is available around the clock 365 days a year. The service is free and offers professional help and confidential support to people living with the disease, caregivers, familes and the public.