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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tribute to a Nun with Alzheimer’s Dementia


When I travel back in time, I find them. They were teachers, mentors, neighbors, caring people who crossed my path at various stages of my journey through life. They were village members who loved me, people who offered their unique support and understood that every child belonged to them. Listening with their hearts and hearing me were their special strengths. Introducing me to possibilities I never considered was an added bonus. I look back in awe at these role models who set a high bar and challenged me to prove them right.

I was born and raised in the segregated Jim Crow South where every day was a reminder of my unimportance to the larger society. Back in the day, I met a wonderful nun named Sr. Mary who became part of a growing circle of individuals who helped me know I mattered. Although she was never my classroom teacher at school, she taught me a lot about life when unanswered questions invaded my childhood thoughts. Young and vibrant, she strolled the playground during recess, while happily initiating nurturing discussions with students. I welcomed conversations with this engaging guru whose encouragement lifted me higher.

Years later, I located and phoned Sr. Mary to express my appreciation, find out how she was doing, and introduce her to the adult I had become. A former school principal, she was living at a convent in another state where she served hospice patients and the elderly. Of course, she was elated to know I had also become a school principal and was a hospice volunteer who had authored a book about hospice and eldercare. Time passed with long-distance calls and snail-mails about our busy lives. In more recent years, Sr. Mary developed Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Living in a nursing home, she continues to decline physically and mentally, but her warm heart remains wrinkle-free.

Savoring memories, I celebrate Sr. Mary, one of numerous dedicated nuns who have inspired countless others in an unending ripple effect that enhances the world. At a time when multitudes search for moments to fall in love with something, somebody, or some place, I am assured that an incredible woman who now has dementia favored me with goodness long ago.

Having known many people with dementia, I understand what really matters is the spirit of our friendship, not whether she remembers my name or identity. Regardless of how she appears or behaves on her roller coaster of reality, Sr. Mary will never be Sr. Alzheimer's. And when this well deserved tribute is shared with her, perhaps she will smile and enjoy this standing ovation from someone in her loving village, someone offering unique support, someone to whom she belongs.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
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