Saturday, February 27, 2016

Inch One Hundred Six: Common Ground

I did not recognize the number registering on my cell phone, but I took the call all the same.

"Ms. Nelson? This is Mike from [non-profit organization] and I'm returning your call."

Ah. I had left this group a voicemail earlier in the day regarding a notification of a $35.00 pledge made over the phone by my Aunt Ginger. In my message, I had said I did not accuse them of  doing anything wrong, but be aware that my aunt has dementia and has little awareness of the frequency of times she donates by phone or mail. I asked them to cancel the pledge and remove her contact information from the group's fundraising banks.

Mike was quick to say that the organization would remove my aunt's information from their donor data base.

Thank you.

That should have been the end of the conversation, but Mike wanted to keep talking. Not about his organization, but about dementia and the harsh toll it extracts. He related two stories involving elderly friends with dementia.

You could hear a palpable sadness in Mike's voice.

"It's a terrible thing, dementia," he said, finally winding down. He reiterated that he would make sure the organization would remove my aunt's information, thanked me for contacting the group, and thanked me for listening.

When I finished the call, Warren said, "What was that all about?"

What was that all about? On the surface, it was a non-profit that took a pledge from a sweet, elderly lady who forgot the call and the promise within a minute or two of hanging up the phone. Kudos to Mike and his group for recognizing that and righting the situation.

At a deeper level, it was a thread of sameness between Mike and me. We stood on common ground, the ground of dementia and what should have been a routine call became a chance to empathize and connect with someone who knew that ground.

Watching dementia make inroads on Aunt Ginger is sad and wearing. She continues to be self-sufficient in personal matters (hygiene, housekeeping, attending church); both her doctor and I keep tabs to make sure she is not losing those areas of capacity. But other details, especially of money and time, are increasingly too complex. She is frustrated with the growing memory gaps and losses. As of late, I have watched and listened as her sharpest memories, those of her youth, grow soft and worn around the edges. Bit by bit, the dementia is erasing who she was and recreating almost daily who she is now.

That is the reality of dementia.

In the end, it was just a phone call from a non-profit organization recognizing it had to undo a pledge. in the end, it was just a guy sitting out in California, doing his job.

In the end, it was just Mike, performing his job, then taking a deep breath and saying, "I know how hard it is with dementia."


Craig Volk said...

Good article

I don't say this lightly, but dementia is probably a worse curse than multiple myeloma. As hard as it is at times, we still have control over our thoughts and happiness (at least I think I do).

Sharon said...

There are times when my kids will say something like,'remember Mom?' and I have to say I honestly don't. It is a very scary thing to truly not remember. I know dementia is different, and way worse but having a foggy brain, thanks to a malfunctioning thyroid is a scary thing. I can't even imagine how it must feel with dementia.
I'm so glad you are there for your Aunt Ginger!