Friday, May 21, 2010

The Walking Ghost of Frances

My mother refused to get out of bed when I visited yesterday after lunch. So I decided to steal another old lady and take her for a walk instead. Please note that names have been changed to protect the innocent :-)

I love this particular woman. Her name is Frances. She is from good old Irish stock with all the simple and clear cut values that come with it. I don’t think she gets many visitors, or at least she says she doesn’t. But it’s hard to tell because she has Alzheimer’s.

We walked to the park just about two hundred feet from the rest home. We sat inside a white gazebo splattered with graffiti and I tried my hardest not to stare at the very graphic images of male body parts. I considered moving so that Frances wouldn’t catch a glimpse, but it became quickly evident she wouldn’t. She was reeling against her life, her situation, her family, and it was all-consuming.

“Why can’t I come and go as I please? I’ve always been my own person, earned my own money. I don’t even know where my money is. Do my brothers and sisters even know I’m here? Why can’t I go for a simple walk alone? I’ve walked alone my entire life.”

I didn’t know what to say. She continued.

“They’ve taken my independence. My daughter has done this to me. She left me here.”

“Frances,” I said. “Your daughter loves you.”

“No she doesn’t! Look at what she did to me!”

And I realized then that Alzheimer’s comes with a script, a common plot, and children are the villains. And to some degree, it is true. Alzheimer’s leaves children with very few options and because of that, we are often typecast as the evil doers. There seems to be no way around it, and believe me, I’ve looked.

But it is not about us, the children, is it? It is about the victims of this disease.

Frances worked in the Worcester Public School System with control of a staff. “Her girls,” she called them. She supported her family without a husband. She made the decisions, propelled her family forward, cleaned up the messes and organized the outcomes. And now here she is, not able to leave a building alone without an alarm sounding off, alerting everyone to the walking ghost of Frances.

As we returned to the rest home, I promised Frances I’d be back tomorrow. She gave me a strong hug for such a wisp of a woman.

“You are a good daughter,” she said.

And I hoped in that moment, Alzheimer’s would transform me into her own child so that she could have a moment of happiness.


  1. How touching and what a sweet, caring person you are. Yes, for just that moment you were the daughter that she needed. God bless.

  2. What a kind thing to do, Lisa. Whether Frances remembers it or not, you will, and your heart will be happy and strong for having done such a kindness. Any maybe next time, your mom will go for a walk with you.
    Hugs from Nancy.

  3. Lisa, You did a very selfless and kind thing. The world needs more people like you. Blessings, Karen

  4. Lisa, I think the time you spent with Frances was just as good for you as it was for her. All our prayers, Michael

  5. Thank you for the kind words. Frances is a wonderful lady. There are many amazing people at the rest home. The stories! The wisdom....

  6. Lisa, as the daughter of someone who had Alzheimer's, you brought tears to my eyes. What a special person you are to take Frances out to the park and to be her "daughter" for that time period.

    Straight From Hel

  7. Oh my, you brought tears to my eyes too. I've heard Alzheimers is tragic and heartbreaking. You're such a good person to be there for your mom, even if she sometimes doesn't realize it. I've said a prayer for you and your mom this morning.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. A lavender bush certainly is awesome, and I wish I had one myself!

  8. Helen, there are so many people there who need 'fill ins.' How I wish I could help them all! Hopefully I can touch each one a little at a time.

    Julie, thank you for the prayer. Means a lot. I trimmed both my lavender bushes, thought of your entry, and enjoyed doing it :-).

  9. What a kind and compassionate thing to do. My wife is a CNA and does private duty home health care. She commits similar acts of random kindness. Its a gift. Thanks for sharing.

    Stephen Tremp

  10. I am so happy to see you blogging again! You post is wonderful and it resonates with me in something that helped me so much. I could never finish my book, it had no ending, Alzheimer's took my mother over 23 years ago, but it never ends, when you have been touched by it the story always goes on, you don't really get a good closure, but your post demonstrates something that helped me end the book 20 years later. We are all Universally connected by this disease. It is the great equalizer of human beings. It affects all races, colors, creeds, men, women, rich, poor, urban, rural and the one common denominator is that we are all human and it connects us. It is universal. If society could get that though its head, we would start treating our elderly and our AD victims with the honor and respect they deserve. Your post demonstrates that, it is hopeful and inspiring, I promise: your connection was as intimate and human as any mother-daughter relationship bond can get. We are all children and parent's. It transcends the DNA connection, it is simply human.
    I'm glad you are back!


  11. Joe, thank you for the beautiful words! And as usual, you have your finger right on the pulse of this disease and how it is perceived.

  12. Lisa, you are such a good daughter. You are giving your Ma exactly what she needs, even when you are not sure because it comes from your heart. I have been visiting a co-workers mother (Anne) in a nursing home on Thursdays. He can only get there 2 days a week, so I offered to help out. She has cancer and the beginning signs of dementia. She is not sure about when her son will see her next and always ask me about him when I tell her I am a friend of his and just thought I would stop by for a visit. Yesterday when I was there, I went to get something for her. I passed a woman in a wheelchair in the hall who told me she was 87 years old and struggling to get to her room. I told her I would take her, thinking it would only take a moment. Once in her room, she wanted help with getting into he chair, finding her remote and other delicate matters. I tried to explain to her that I was not on staff and could not move her. She was relentless. I thought of what you and quickly looked for a diversion. Mercifully, I spotted her remote and flipped on the TV. I handed it to her and asked her to find her favorite show. I quickly called over my shoulder that I would find a nurse. (Which I did before returning to Anne's room.) I was a bit concerned leaving my new friend longer than expected. Upon entering Anne's room, she greeted me anew, as if I had just arrived. I helped her eat, recovered her spilled juice that filled her breakfast plate.. re-pouring it into her glass much to her delight. We discussed travel and places she loved. When I had to leave, she thanked me for caring. I kissed her bald head and left. You mentioned dearest that you did not know what to do… just keep doing the next right thing. That will be enough. Love you, Carol