Alice’s wrinkled, manicured hand reaches out and gently enfolds the gnarled, curled fingers of her lifelong friend. Little recognition registers in Dottie’s eyes until Alice speaks in a voice as soothing and tender as a mother with a newborn babe, “Hi, Dottie, this is Alice Kozlowski.”
Slowly Dottie’s eyes fill with light. She grunts and smiles. “Where’s Ed?” she asks in a sound that is mostly a grumble. Alice turns to me with surprise. Ed and Alice met at Dottie’s wedding 60-some years ago when she had been Dottie’s bridesmaid. A friend of the groom, Ed married Alice only a year or two later. Their marriage had endured for 58 years. “Ed died,” Alice replied.
Dottie responded with tears and groans of dismay, repeating, “Ed’s dead. Ed’s dead,” allowing the news to take hold her in heart.
Since Ed’s death a year ago, this visit has grown in importance to Alice. Ed had been too shaken to return after a visit several years before. Other family members, too, have been reluctant to expose their mother, or themselves, to the devastation of the dementia that had ripped this iconic figure from their lives overnight. Yet, I could see that Alice needed closure for herself. She did not want Dottie to pass without saying good- bye. Alice assured me that she was prepared for the worst—not to be recognized at all by this woman whose life was so closely interwoven with her own.
She made other preparations as well, choosing a card that expressed her love for this friend and writing a heartfelt note in what she described as “chicken scrawl.” I’ve cared for Alice for nearly three years now and have grown to cherish my time with her each day. It is a delight to glimpse in action the generous-spirited woman who has always loved to entertain and who never lets an important occasion pass without a greeting card and a personal note and, when possible, a small token of her love. This was one of those moments.
Earlier in the autumn, I had brought Alice a miniature pumpkin, and she asked me to pick up one for Dottie at the farmer’s wagon, due in my urban neighborhood that very afternoon. In a providential moment, buried near the bottom of a basket filled with
decorative gourds, I spied the last miniature pumpkin on the last visit of the wagon this season.
Now Alice reaches for the pumpkin and places it in Dottie’s twisted hands. “Look what I’ve brought you,” she croons. “It’s a little pumpkin. They can make you a little pumpkin pie.”
Alice reminisces about their years growing up together in one of the city’s ethnic neighborhoods. “Remember how we used to go swimming and dancing?” With this Dottie becomes excited and animated. She grunts a yes-yes. With loving patience Alice has drawn this woman’s spirit up from the depths where dementia had enclosed it. For nearly an hour, Alice leans forward talking softly, coaxing Dottie to remember. And, it becomes evident, not only to me, but also to Dottie’s caregiver who has begun to feed her, that this visit is a special treat for Dottie—and that she is remembering.
As Dottie tires and begins to drift toward sleep, Alice pulls herself up from her wheelchair and bends to kiss her girlfriend. “Come on, give me a kiss,” she coaxes, and Dottie raises her head. They kiss and rub noses, giggling across a lifetime, like the girls they once were. Finally Alice plants a kiss on Dottie’s forehead, just as Ed had always done.
Best Friends Forever!
About the Author: Karen Ander Francis
Karen Ander Francis is a caregiver and author. In retirement from non-profit leadership, she has returned to caring for the elderly, work she loved as a teenager serving meals and providing personal hygiene to the bedridden in a nursing home. Her own experience with physical limitations following a nearly fatal car accident and her training as a spiritual companion gives her the sensitivity to attend to both the physical and spiritual needs of her clients.