A Visit with a Dear Friend

I walk into the locked memory care unit through the forbidding coded safety doors. An employee tells me she is in her room. I’m puzzled. She’s rarely in her room. I knock and hesitantly open the door. When I call her name, no one responds. Her room is empty. As I step out, someone else tells me she is on the porch. That’s more like it. My friend Joan is rocking by herself, and I announce my presence with a hug. Her face lights up as she returns my embrace.

We talk. Small talk. It’s always small talk now, but it’s good. She asks me where I’ve been, and I tell her about my travels in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Then we move on to what she really wants to hear—my motorhome travels to far-away national parks. I tell her about riding my road bike in the snow in the Grand Canyon, and that she was my inspiration to buy my motorhome. She says something unintelligible about her travels all over the country with her husband Thomas in their Air Stream. I used to love to hear those stories.

When I tell her about my $800.00 motor home repair bill, she says I need to have a Thomas around to fix all that kind of stuff. Then my friend tells me about the time she bought “this place.” I realize she’s referring to the assisted living facility where she’s living now and my heart sinks. Her memory has clearly declined since my last visit.

She begins, “it was a big commitment, but I knew it was the right thing. It is a lot of upkeep—not sure if I will sell it, but we know we want it to stay in the family.” As she waves her hand over the expanse of grass to her right, she tells me she mowed that part yesterday. 

Dementia is a crazy thing. Her memories come and go, leaving gaps. Sometimes Joan can recall stories from long ago, but today I’m realizing even the distant past is getting fuzzy and her reality is distorted. It’s almost like my friend is hallucinating. I decide to just go along. 

She continues, “I have to break up the back these days. It’s too much to mow all in one day anymore. I usually take care of these shrubs, but if I can’t get to them, the guys will take care of them. They are good about that sort of thing. They help me with the weeds too.” 

We take a walk on the track around the pond. She walks at a comfortable pace for me and all my injuries. I reminisce about how, through the years, it posed a challenge for me to keep up with her pace and her sister’s, too. Her chuckle makes me smile. 

“I slept through that storm last night. How ‘bout you?” I say.

She giggles. “I didn’t know it stormed. Alma was the one who hated storms. She got that from our momma.” 

As we sit down at the first bench along the trail, I ask her how she met Thomas. 

“Well, you know. He was just one of those guys. You know, he was . . . We met, and then I just . . . He was a hard worker.”

I realize I have strayed from small talk and attempt to return to the landscaping discussion. We continue our walk and I compliment her on her manicured lawn.

She responds with, “Do what you need to do and then sit back and relax a bit. You don’t need to keep working all the time.” 

“Good advice,” I say as we hug and my to-do list fills my head. 

 Now it’s my time to mow my lawn and pull my weeds. I don’t have “guys,” but I do have a friend, a friend in Joan. A dear friend who is still giving me advice and sharing her memories with me. Do you have someone like Joan in your life? I’d love to hear about them. Please share in the comments section below.