One of our family members has Alzheimer’s Disease. He and his wife, who is lovingly caring for him at home, had been world travelers, but now those big trips don’t work for them any longer. I thought about a time I had taken some Alzheimer-afflicted people on a tiny, tiny trip.
At the time I was a naturalist at a small Audubon sanctuary. Our headquarters were in a lovely old turn-of-the-century mansion, with a small enclosed formal garden out back, through the French doors of the big formal living room.
On this particular day, I had the delightful privilege of welcoming the folks and their attending caregivers from a local assisted-living facility. The ladies and gentlemen were nattily-dressed, and two of the ladies were wearing little hats. With a bit of help, everyone alighted from their van and entered the elegant living room, where I had a semi-circle of chairs set up.
I told them a short story about the mansion, how it had been left to the Audubon Society by its owner, and how she had loved gardens and how we were going to visit her favorite garden. “Just outside there.” I pointed to the colorful array of flowers visible through the wide French doors. “We will walk around and look at the flowers,” I explained.
So we all went outside, crossing the low porch with its lovely overhang of purple wisteria. “What is the name of that flower?” inquired one lady. “Oh,” I said, “that’s wisteria.” “Oh of course!” she replied.
A minute later, the same lady said, “What is that flower called?” “That is wisteria,” I responded. “Oh, yes!” she said with satisfaction.
“What flower is that?” she asked me a third time, and again I answered, “Wisteria,” and again a pleased expression crossed her face.
The group and I, and their attending staff, walked very, very slowly along the little paved path past the flowers. We looked at brilliant colors and luscious forms, and noticed different kinds of insects using the flowers. We took our time and admired everything. The staff people looked, too, and I heard them naming their favorites and exclaiming over the prettiest colors.
After our walk, we went inside again, and ice cream was served to one and all. During the refreshment time, a gentleman asked me who lived in the house. I explained that nobody lived here, but that the lady who used to live in it gave it to us to use for showing people her garden. He said that that was a nice thing for her to do. I agreed.
When refreshments were over, the group prepared to leave. They all had smiles on their faces. I thanked each one for coming to see the garden and have ice cream. “Thank you,” they each replied.
I know that by the time they had gotten into their van, the exact memory of how they had spent the past hour had vanished. But the residue of happiness remained with them. I myself remember their trip well, even after all these years.