TALKING ABOUT DEMENTIA – AND THE GIFT OF LISTENING

There they were cruising the Caribbean as she said they had done so many times before. They were Ben and Dahlia from Texas. They looked like so many of the other aging couples on that cruise ship. But after the brief introductions at the large dining room table, Dahlia found the need to tell the table that Ben has dementia.

What was so much more obvious than Ben’s confusion was Dahlia’s need to talk about it. Even to a table full of strangers, for one short meal on a seven day cruise, she felt the need to tell.

This information wasn’t needed for their table companions. Ben was impeccably dressed, even to the white sweater tied by it’s sleeves over his shoulders and sun glasses perched on top of his head. It wasn’t because of Ben’s table manners, although slow, Ben needed no assistance cutting his food or eating. Yes, Ben was very quite, but so are many older men who just sit back and let their wives do the talking.

No, Dahlia needed to tell for herself. She told of their 28 year marriage, the trips they had taken, how life had been before dementia robbed her of the life she once knew. You could see how she needed to tell, as she frequently repeated the same phrase “You should have seen him, he was something.” The listener could tell she has repeated this so many times over these last nine years since his diagnosis. Just saying it gave her a moment to remember, as she was still picturing him as he had been.

When they parted, you could see that people were trying to say something understanding, supportive, and comforting to Dahlia. So just as you do when you see that young mother who is struggling with a baby and toddlers in tow. You smile and say “wow, you have your hands full, and your children look so great and happy,” and you see that smile break out on her weary face. Someone has recognized, how hard her life is, and she is doing it well.

So now you tell Dahlia what an amazing job she is doing. Ben looks so content, and well taken care of, she is surly doing the hardest job there is, that of a caregiver. Dahlia gives you that same smile that you receive from the recognized mom. As you walk away you take one last look back, at this stranger with the big problem and the quiet husband.