Monday, November 14, 2011


I recently was fortunate enough to meet another volunteer with my respite program, a lovely woman who had a caring and calm way about her. She had just started in the program and had not yet had much contact with dementia-sufferers, nor did I sense that it had impacted her family life. After our getting-to-know-you chat, we began discussing my experiences, my book, and my father. She explained that her present client had dementia and since she didn't have much experience, she wanted to pick my brain on how best to serve her client.

I inquired how impaired her client was; how far her client had traveled down the dark road of dementia. Apparently, the client was largely withdrawn, but would occasionally interact a little bit with my new friend. The volunteer said that she had tried very hard to be there for her new client, bringing poetry, books, and the newspaper to read out loud. She would talk and tell stories to her client but said after a while it felt like she was just talking to herself, which made us both laugh. It reminded me of the visits I've had with my Father in the last year or two, where I talk and tell stories and he only occasionally interacts with a few standard phrases. Those of us who are close to dementia know how this feels!

I told her that just her presence was a gift for this client. I've seen so often how the elderly or the dementia-afflicted are left alone in their small rooms or in activity spaces while the action of the facility happens around them. By what she said, it sounded like the family was more involved than most, but I told her that reading to her client, whether its poetry or a magazine or even the Bible, bringing music in to listen to, even just talking about her own life was a way to interact with the client, to be in her world a little. I told her that just sitting quietly with her client, like I do so often with Dad, was a way to be present, a way to share herself. I suggested that she try just sitting after a spell of reading or talking.

She looked like the idea hadn't occurred to her, the idea that just her very presence could be a way of interaction, a way of giving. I know that Dad feels me there and feels my love for him, even though no words are being exchanged and I told my friend how lovely that can feel for herself and her client. I could tell that this woman was a gift to all of her clients; just her desire to do her best for her client and educate herself showed her heart. Just be there. Be there for your loved one or your client or your friend. Just be.