Keeping Them in Our Hearts
By Devorah Schlein
The Twin Cities Jewish Community Alzheimer’s Task Force is presenting a half-day conference that will provide education and support for caregivers and those supporting a loved one with dementia. The event, “Keeping the Spirit Alive,” will be held on Sunday, April 30, from 8 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minnetonka. It is free and open to the public. You may register beginning March 1, 2017 online at www.jfssp.org/keepingthespirit or by calling Jewish Family Service of St. Paul (JFS) at 651-698-0767.
I remember as a young teenager being told that my Baubie had Alzheimer’s and my Papa had dementia. I remember asking my parents questions about what this meant. Will my Baubie still be able to take me to get pan-e-cakes—her favorite? Would my papa still make me Papa’s chicken when I visit him in Florida? Will they always know that I am their granddaughter, Devorah, that loves to read, bake, swim, and spend time with her family? It was all very hard for me to understand what they would be going through. All I knew was I loved them and that would never change.
I went away for college and every break from school I would either come home to Minnesota to see my Baubie and family or go to Florida to see my Papa and Grammy. When I visited I always liked to do something special with my family. Sometimes I would bring my Baubie a special treat like pan-e-cakes or pizza and have lunch with her. On most occasions I would wear the color purple—her favorite and also mine. Any time I wore purple she got a big smile on her face!
On one particular visit, I picked up a pizza and went to see her by myself. When I got to her room something was different. She looked at me differently, and did not smile when she saw the purple shirt. I said, “Hi, Baubie, how are you?” This response was almost always followed by “I’m okay, but the food here is no good.” This time was different; she did not know who I was and did not remember me. This was the moment I dreaded, when I learned firsthand more about the disease. I left that day crying.
After I left her room, I called my parents for comfort. I was the first grandchild in our family to have my Baubie not remember who I was. At that moment I wondered if she would ever remember me. It was not easy for me to cope with this change, as she was my Baubie, the one who made me vegetable soup every time I visited. She knew I loved any kind of soup; now she did not recognize me.
In school I was studying to become a social worker and was learning more and more about Alzheimer’s and dementia, but I did not find this information comforting. When I visited my Papa at the assisted living home, there were quotes around the building. I always found these quotes to be comforting and began finding more quotes on my own to help ground me and remind me that everything will be “alright.” One quote I found: “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay forever.” – Winnie the Pooh. This quote meant a lot to me as I watched my grandparents struggle, and it continues to mean a lot many years after they passed.
For me it has always been important to never give up hope and, instead, to think about all the fun memories I shared with both my grandparents and think about ways to keep them close to my heart. Both my Baubie’s and Papa’s stories were different but I found comfort in my family and in reminding myself that they will always be a part of me as they taught me so many lessons in life. I remind you to turn to family and friends as you go through this process and find comfort in keeping your loved one close to your heart.
The Twin Cities Jewish Community Alzheimer’s Task Force is a committee of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) and Jewish Family Service of St. Paul (JFS). Conference underwriters are Fingerhut Family Foundation, Kelner-Witebsky Memory Care Fund, and Carol Shapiro and Family.