I realized today that I've spent a month in Virginia this summer. Two visits, the first to move my Father into a Memory Care Facility and to help him with his transition, and the second - to check up on him. The place where Dad is now living is about 30 minutes from his home where I stay, and I usually visit him in the morning and in the evening - so I've found myself on the backroads of Greene County, Virginia - taking short detours on every trip to see something new.
My therapy during these visits has been an almost obsessive photographing of places between my Father's home and his Memory Care place - it's where I either prepare myself for my visit or decompress after being there. During early June when I was there for two and a half weeks, the skies were fantastic: volatile, changing, expressive. During my week and a half visit that I just returned from, the skies were at times colorless, heavy and humid - skies of deep summer. I've been down roads this summer that I've driven by many times in the past - and learned things about the county where my Father and his two brothers were born and raised. Perhaps I've been trying to remember things for my Father - as he loses his own memories and sense of place, I'm trying to hold on to them instead. I can do that for him - even if he'll never know. I've been telling myself to start writing down some of my experiences with this world of dementia, before I forget them myself - before their richness is lost. I'll try to do this, although I'm busy - so who knows. But I will start with this one small moment - a powerful one - and we'll go from there.
During my visits, I would go and visit Dad virtually every morning and evening. One of the reasons that I liked the place that we selected for him was that it has a beautiful small garden along the back of the building - a secure garden, but one without a heavy, solid fence so it didn't feel so oppressive. In the garden there are two bird feeders, several large crepe myrtles (one with a cardinal nest with three little ones), numerous patches of daylilies - and a small raised vegetable bed filled with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. There are several seating areas in the garden too, including a wooden gazebo that was where we would always sit in the evenings.
One evening, while my Dad and I were sitting in the gazebo watching the birds at the feeders, a fellow resident came out. She was coming towards us in her wheelchair, not looking very happy - and as she got by us, I asked if she wanted to join us. She quickly said no, that she didn't want to be around anyone - and kept going. She went to the far end of the garden - where a large patch of yellow daylilies were blooming - and bent over from a sitting position in her wheelchair and began meticulously and skillfully deadheading the lilies.
I decided to go over to her, I was fascinated by what she was doing - and so I went up to her and asked if she was a gardener. With that question everything about her changed - her expression, her contenance - everything. She said "Why yes, how did you know?" and I told her that I could tell that she knew what she was doing with the daylilies. She thanked me for noticing this - and we both talked about how much we liked flowers for a few minutes. She smiled as she talked, as if remembering past flowers and past gardens.
Then she said "I don't know if I will be in this garden tomorrow, but the daylilies will know that I have been here today".
If there is a lesson that I am learning in dealing with my Father's dementia - it is that only the moment matters. The moment can bring us small gifts, if we are simply willing to receive them. It isn't about what my Father has forgotten or what he will forget - but it is about letting go of everything except for what is happening in the moment. It is about deadheading a daylily with no expectation or reward, and watching baby cardinals from a gazebo without worrying about seeing them fly off - it is about living each moment as if it the only one you have - and letting go of expectation for the next one.