Last semester, I wrote a post on my former passion blog Happy in the Valley that detailed the specifics of a service project that I am currently in the process of shaping into an on-campus organization. We call it The Memory Initiative, and I have become so invested in the project and its aims that I have decided to create a new passion blog documenting my experiences with it. If you are unfamiliar with The Memory Initiative please use the link I’ve included to read my page that gives a general overview of the project…
When my teammates and I were going through the process of pairing ourselves up with mentors, I was lucky enough to be matched with a woman named Mary. Mary lived in Elmcroft Senior Living facility located in State College, and she was a resident of the Heartland Village, which is an area in Elmcroft that is specialized for memory care. You see, Mary has dementia.
I’ll be the first to admit that at first, I was extremely nervous to be working with a person who has dementia.
“What do I say?”
“How do I act?”
Although I may have learned about the epidemic in my high school psychology course, and I do anticipate to major in Neuroscience, I knew nothing about how to interact with people affected by it.
To my pleasant surprise, conversing with Mary was remarkably similar to how I would converse with just about anybody else. I asked her about her day, and she followed by asking me about mine. I’ve talked with Mary about the things that she likes to do, and although she may have dementia, Mary seems to carry out a tremendously healthful life. She loves to help out around the facility. When anyone is doing laundry, she is eager to assist in the folding of clothes. She likes puzzles even though she thinks that they’re tricking her sometimes, and books make her happy. Mary owns a large, tan, snakeskin purse, and even though she’s not as strong as she once was, she carries it with her everywhere. When I asked her why she doesn’t leave it in her room, she told me that she “wants to be prepared for anything.” Above all though, Mary loves her friends at Elmcroft.
My conversations with Mary never felt forced- they were natural and I felt comfortable when talking to her. In fact, although I asked her some of the same questions on multiple occasions, I received many different answers. She once told me that she had grown up on a farm with chickens and cows, and because she spent her days taking care of these animals all throughout her childhood, she is a workaholic still to this day. I asked her where she was from, and the answer to this question oftentimes varied as well. However, one thing always remained constant in Mary’s tales: her family. When Mary talked about her family, she communicated an immense sense of appreciation for them. Each of her family members she mentioned, she mentioned out of love.
During one visit to Elmcroft, I complimented Mary’s knit sweater and noted that it must be super cozy. To this she replied, “Oh, this old thing? I’ve had this since high school.” And a smile couldn’t help but spread across my face. Whenever I was visiting Mary and it was time for me to leave, she’d say something like “Please come back, because I do enjoy talking to you.” I came to notice that Mary made me smile a lot, sometimes even as I made my way to Mueller Lab at 8am on Wednesday mornings. In early November, my grandmother who had been on hospice care for over a year had passed away. I was unsettled, but visiting Mary somehow subtly remedied my grief. I missed my grandmother, specifically because I wished to have spent more time with her when I was still living at home. However, I found comfort in the fact that at least I could still positively impact the life of someone, even in the simplest way. Mary improved the quality of my weeks.
Just last week, I received notice that Mary had left Elmcroft to return home. Although a small bit of selfishness emerged as I regretted not having been able to say goodbye, I am overwhelmed with joy that she is home and reunited with her family again. Although my relationship with Mary was short-lived, it was meaningful. And although Mary forgot my name in between each week I met with her, I hope that somewhere inside of her she’ll remember me. Certainly, I will remember her.
“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” ~Maya Angelou