November 23, 2019 BY JAS 🍦
In talking to many caregivers about
“Is There Any Ice Cream?”
I discovered they felt the stories reflected
love begging to fill in the emptiness
that the pain can create.
I had just met this ‘young’ man. He was new to the reception desk at the senior centre.
My friend, standing beside me, had explained, by way of introduction, that I was a caregiver.
“Her spouse has Alzheimer’s disease like your mother had,” she mentioned to my new male acquaintance, whom my friend already knew.
It seemed to me that the gentleman did not want to talk to me too much. His face did not light up. His eyes remained dull. So, I did not talk about the role I still fulfill daily. I did not want to start off a new relationship on the wrong foot.
Ignoring the caregiving comment, I smiled, shook his hand and asked, “How do you like being in your new job?
He began to tell me, in his slow, senior voice, that he liked meeting new people each day. “It’s a good place to be.” Good small talk!
But then he stopped short and turned the conversation right back to caregiving.
“I took care of my mom for a number of years, you know?“ he told me, as if I already knew. Of course, I didn’t. “Evidently she had dementia for a long time before any of us ever knew,” he went on. “We noticed her memory going, but she was in her late seventies and we all knew seniors began to forget things. She’d forget where the car keys were, and at times we had to help her find them, and even had to make another set. We spent hours looking for her glasses one time. We actually found them on the floor of her car. But it seemed normal for an elderly woman to lose her glasses, although maybe not in her car.”
My new friend took a breath.
“And then we learned not every senior forgot things, that it was not necessarily normal for a senior to forget. So then my mom’s forgetting no longer seemed normal,” he told me as his eyes came alive. The memory of his mother made him happy.
“It was when my mom told us she wanted some ice cream, and we went to get her some, that we recognized maybe there was something to dementia among seniors after all.” He was becoming animated; storytelling was bringing him to life.
“We knew something wasn’t quite right when we went to the freezer to get her some ice cream and saw that the ice cream my sister had just gotten for a weekend family get-together was gone, all four tubs. And then we saw the empty tubs. You know, those fancy little Ben and Jerry containers. They were still in the kitchen trash basket. My mom had eaten them all, and we had believed she didn’t like ice cream!” He stopped and began to laugh, but then went on. “She denied it, of course, but we knew she had been the one to eat the ice cream because she had been the only one home at the time. She ate all the ice cream and didn’t remember!” By then my new friend was grinning ear to ear.
Oh, my gosh, that culprit, ice cream, surfaced again.
“That’s a unique way to discover she was having serious memory loss,” I smiled and went on. “I guess she loved her ice cream, like many with dementia seem to.” I had connected with him. He had made me chuckle as he told his story.
“But I am so sorry to hear your mother suffered from dementia. It is such a difficult disease for anyone to go through, and doubly so for caregivers.”
I didn’t know how much more to say. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to discuss it, or just tell me his story. I didn’t know what his role with his mother had been. I wondered if I should just politely move on. But he kept going.
“I was so lucky I had my sister and family to help us take care of her. Of course, she did not think there was a thing wrong with her,” he continued his story. I was beginning to feel like he needed to tell someone. Needed to tell his story, to let out the pain. I was listening. I wanted to know about his mother.
He was talking about a seventy-something woman who had family all around her, who daily was forgetting different things, and those around her did not associate her memory loss with dementia. It only went to show me how many of us did not experience anything like it before we were faced with those words, mild cognitive impairment.
So many of us were forced to become caregivers out of circumstance. And then I recognized many of those who knew little or nothing about memory loss knew even less about being a caregiver. I was too familiar with being unaware of what was ahead. I had been in those beginner-shoes not that many years before. In fact, I still faced unknowns every day.
I knew then, and after writing about caregiving for My Love who had dementia along with several other diseases just as fatal, that I would bring caregiving into the light.
I knew it was more pressing now than before, that I had to share our stories so that a few more people might become familiar with the language, the concepts, the disease spectrum, the pathology – the whole gamut – of dementia. While I could share emotional experiences, I wouldn’t be able to tell them everything that might happen. But, I could at least encourage them to reach out, to find support, the part I had found most difficult.
I had been one of those who had become a caregiver without training, without family experience, and for a few years in the beginning, without support. I knew the steep learning curve ahead of those just beginning their journey. It was because I had not been aware, because I had been so afraid, and felt so alone for a long time, that I felt compelled to find a way to share my stories. I knew if I could get to caregivers and bring light into their world, if I could be a hand reaching out while they were crossing those wobbly, slippery rocks, I might make a difference in at least one person’s life. I had to try.
It wasn’t long before I began to wonder how many others had experienced the association of ice cream with memory loss! Even today, I can say that almost everyday My Love asks if we have any ice cream! It is not just a one-off! I become amused when I hear the various stories connecting ice cream and dementia. The title for my first book seemed so natural to me!
Over time, I realized stories, for me, had been a way that the ‘pain got out.’ And I, in time, noticed I had opened a door for the ‘love to flow in.’ I had thought on that for years after first hearing Peter, Paul and Mary sing “Give Yourself to Love” and then, after years of writing stories.
And thus, “Is There Any Ice Cream?” reflects love that begs to fill in the emptiness when the pain can leave.