Melinda Howlett Gill from Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, recently had an experience that left her in tears. It’s a beautiful story of kindness and personal awareness, really, but also sad. If you’ve ever known someone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, you will find your story somewhere in Melinda’s. And although you may cry, remember that in darkness there is always light somewhere. You may not see it right away, but it is there.
Melinda was so touched by her chance meeting with Mary, she shared her thoughts on Facebook.
To rewrite Melinda’s words would be an injustice, but to not share them would be even more so. Melinda had one day, one encounter, that had a profound effect on her. She writes from her heart and what her feelings were that day. And because her heart is filled with such love and compassion, they are beyond eloquent. Read them, and you’ll understand.
Her words are poignant and poetic.
Melinda prefaced her story, which may be long but well worth the read, by writing, “Yes, I’m crying. Yes, I’m posting the photo here, because the reason I’m crying is an important one. The true face of Alzheimer’s joined me on my walk today. It was a gentle entrance, but one that will leave a lasting impact.”
Melinda shared with The Epoch Times, “I really hope that my experience will have a positive ripple effect and this will help to that end.” With her permission, here is what Melinda wrote:
I walked to the mall and on my way home a sweet lady asked me where the nearest medical clinic was.
While giving her directions, she seemed overwhelmed so I told her I’d walk to the clinic with her.
On our walk, she told me she had Alzheimer’s and forgets things easily.
She told me her name, Mary, and that she was from Scotland.
She told me about her grumpy daughter and her helpful son.
She told me about her life before Alzheimer’s took away her memory.
She told me jokes.
She told me why she needed to go to the clinic.
She showed me her crazy loud finger whistle and that she could whistle just as well with her thumbs!
She could tell me many things, but had already forgotten where we were walking.
At this point I realized the clinic would probably not see her without family but we went anyways and waited a half hour to see the doctor.
She realized she didn’t have her phone with her after searching everywhere so we couldn’t call family.
The doctor told me a family member needed to come along and that he could not treat her today.
Mary said she knew how to get home from the mall and invited me to have a tea with her at McDonald’s.
She said everyone knew her at the mall because she went there every day.
She walks from home to the mall the same route so it’s now in her long-term memory so she can remember it.
At McDonald’s everyone called her by name.
At one point when she was coming back to the table she didn’t recognize me and asked if we were sitting together.
I explained how our afternoon had gone.
She told me her daughter’s phone number, so I phoned her and told her I was sitting with her mother at the mall and would wait until she came to get her as I wanted to ensure she made it home safely.
No thank yous…daughter asked to speak to her mom.
She wasn’t coming to get her.
Mary cried after she got off the phone with her daughter.
She could not remember her son’s phone number.
After digesting the fact that her own young adult daughter was not coming to get her mother I told Mary that I’d walk home with her.
We talked some more while we drank tea.
Mary is kind, sweet, confused, friendly, chatty, and so starved for human connection.
She was thankful to have someone to talk with and spend time with.
She told me that she really liked me and that she doesn’t give out a compliment like that often.
She asked why we were walking together.
She asked how she got to the mall.
She’d completely forgotten.
I walked her to her door; her daughter came out, and rolled her eyes as I explained that I walked home with Mary as it was on my way home and I wanted to make sure she got there safely.
I also told her about the clinic and how Mary and I had been together for a few hours.
I was greeted with more eye rolls and no warmth whatsoever.
There was no thank you, nothing.
I don’t live with someone with Alzheimer’s so I am sure it’s complicated and difficult.
I thought about what kind of a life Mary must have now.
The not remembering.
The dependence on others.
The impatience of caregivers.
The losing of the memories.
The loss of short-term memory.
The difficulty going somewhere new.
The scary feelings.
The nervous feeling she told me about when she knows she should remember something but doesn’t.
Her shaking hands.
Her feeling stupid because she doesn’t remember like she should.
The way some people treat her, even family.
The sadness she feels.
How she holds onto the pride she felt when she once drove a huge bus to Arizona and the whole group made it there alive.
I didn’t want to leave.
I wanted to stay there with Mary.
I wanted to protect her and make her feel loved and needed and appreciated.
Mary smiled and I gave her the biggest hug and told her what a lovely afternoon I’d had.
As I walked away, leaving her with her daughter, I burst into tears and cried all the way home…25 minutes, I cried.
I’m still crying as I write this.
Mary won’t remember me.
Mary won’t remember the talk we had, why she went to the clinic or that she went to the clinic at all, or that we spent three hours together this afternoon.
Mary won’t remember…but I WILL.”
— Melinda Howlett Gill
About Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive. What starts as difficulty remembering and mild confusion eventually destroys a person’s memory completely. They go through dramatic personality changes. They forget important people in their lives. They lose social and intellectual skills. The decline is steady and deadly. There is no cure.
Today, there are 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, according to The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. That number is expected to double in the next 15 years. The Alzheimer’s Association in America reports that a new diagnosis is made every 66 seconds and there are 5 million people living with the disease. By the year 2015, they estimate that number could increase to 50 million.
There’s an epidemic of young caring for the old.
One of the shocking realities that many people are unaware of is how many young people are caring for older family members with Alzheimer’s Disease. A feature documentary recently aired on TVO in Canada followed young adult children from three families. The film shines a light on the daily and long-term challenges of young people caring for their parents living with early onset Alzheimer’s.
“Much Too Young” was funded through an IndieGoGo campaign and is hoping to reach a broader audience soon. The film is available online at TVO.org/documentaries in Canada. For more information visit www.muchtooyoung.com and view the trailer below.