Can you hear the violins playing in the background?
I'm going to ask one of those sappy questions, so be prepared.
Are you ready?
What is a friend? (Yes, I hear those groans...)
A friend is someone you want to spend time with. Someone you can laugh with, and cry with. Someone you can trust with confidences and everything else that is important to you. A friend loves you for who you are. Respects you. Is proud of you. Gives themselves to you in so many ways.
That's why I can say some of my best friends have dementia.
I know a lot about my friends, and every day, I try to learn more. I am a student of them, and when they share stories of their lives, I am richer, because who they are adds to my life. It's a gift I give and receive, because I tell them stories of my stories, too. Tonight I told a resident how beagle Bailey loves to give hugs, and she told me about a beagle her family had on their farm. The cat had eight kittens, and they followed the beagle around like ducks in a row. We laughed. We connected.
I love doing things with my friends. This Friday, we are having the first barbecue of the season together on the patio. My mouth is watering now.
We communicate. While walking a resident to lunch one day this week, she said, "Will you join us?" I explained that I had a couple of people to assist in the dining room, but when I was finished, I would join her table. When I was done, I ran for my container of salad, pulled up a chair and had the most delightful lunch chatting with the ladies at that table. Better than sitting at my desk, working on "stuff." The "stuff" will wait.
We build each other up. I have a resident whose verbal responses are slow, and at times, non-existent. I can see the thoughts behind her eyes, but sometimes she can't bring them forward. But when she smiles at you, the sun bursts forth and you feel loved. Her smile--always there, freely given--warms my heart every day. Every day, I tell her.
We laugh. I can't tell you the number of times in a day laughter will burst forth as we interact with each other. It's what friends do. One lady was telling me she didn't like the smell of the barbecue when it came in her window. "You have barbecue farts everywhere!" I burst out laughing, and remarked that I'd never heard that expression before. She grinned. "That's because I just made it up!"
We are equals. I give to my friends, care and fun and support, listening and problem solving. They give to me wisdom and kindness and sharing and affection and love. What I give is important. What I receive is more important. Understanding that I am both giver and receiver is the most important of all.
Like all friends everywhere, we work at our relationships. I think about ways to improve their lives, and look for opportunities to get to know them better. They find ways to bless me with who they are.
This is radical thinking. The model of care we are used to, says, "I am here to look after you, keep you safe and clean and even occupied. I will care for you. I will decide what is best and make sure that is what you get. I will give to you, and I will be professional about it." For years, we believed this was the right message.
This model of care says, "We are partners together in your care. You have choices. You have much to give. We will decide together.
We are friends."
Based on information in Dementia Beyond Drugs, G. Allen Power, p. 136.