That's her way of saying hello, pointing at me repeatedly. The pointing eventually becomes a beckoning, her hands clutching the air, aimed toward me. Even though I'm on my way to my mother's room, I can't resist Hazel. I go to her, lean down, and hug her. I know nothing about this woman, nor does she know me, but her embrace is as tight as mine.
Her eyes are wide, joyful. I wonder if she's always been such a happy person? I'm no expert on the subject, but I've come to believe dementia can make the elderly both more of who they were and less of who they are.
I ask Hazel if she's been behaving herself. "Oh no," she says, shaking her head. This is something else I've learned about Alzheimer's sufferers: They often love being asked this question. Maybe it makes them feel like they're still capable of mischief, which means they're still a force to be reckoned with.
And they can be. Just a few days before I arrived, I received an email blast sent to those with family at the facility. The message said that "a resident has again found out the door code" needed to exit the building.
"We believe the resident had figured out to look in the back of the visitor's log and was able to peek at it while assisting some other residents out of the front door for an outing." From now on, the memo continued, the exit code will no longer be written in the back of the visitor's logbook. The message gave the new code, with the implication that you'll have to keep it handy or remember it. I must admit, I love the irony of needing to remember a code to exit a memory care facility.
Back to Hazel. As we talk, her hands grab mine and hold on, firmly. I think she's even flirting with me, so I flirt back. We are adoring each other, laughing and talking. And then, her tone grows quieter, her smile fades, a desperation comes into in her eyes.
"Can you take me home?" she asks. "Please?"
|Entrance to the memory-care facility|
The truth is, Hazel is home. I won't tell her that, however. I know that at this stage of her life, the truth is as meaningless as a lie. But the truth continues to sting; the lie offers fleeting hope.
I hug Hazel once more and tell her I'll be happy to take her home, but I must first visit my mother. Her smile returns, though not as brightly as before. Perhaps she knows, intuitively, that although where she is may not be home, it's where she must be.