The following is a chapter excerpt from “Fran’s Song: My Mother’s Triumph over Alzheimer’s” by Ron Cooper.
Every day in the Alzheimer’s ward, Mom and her fellow residents engaged in exercises to strengthen their minds. One day, the activities aide held up a flash card of a tree and asked Mom and her companions to identify it. They answered in a chorus, “Tree!”
“Good!” the aide said.
Then the aide held up a picture of a rose. It was a black-and-white drawing, but still these people with tenuous memories recalled a symbol of beauty and nature.
Clara identified it as a “flower” and several of her friends agreed. Mom didn’t respond. You could tell that she was thinking. The aide pressed for more specifics, and Mom answered:
“A rose is a rose is a rose.”
For a split second, Mom had defeated this deteriorating disease that makes a mockery of your remembrances and steals your yesteryear, bit by agonizing bit.
“Yes, that’s it, Fran!” the aide exclaimed, approvingly.
A few weeks later, I took a bouquet of flowers and gave them to Mom. I told her to take one and give the rest to her friends as they ate breakfast. She went around to each one, and smiles leaped onto their faces as they accepted the sweet-smelling gift. I brought my camera to record their reactions.
William’s hands were shaking so bad that he couldn’t grasp his flower at first, but when he did he wouldn’t let go. Jim’s eggs got cold as he posed happily with his flower. Phillip pulled his flower apart, a grin on his face. Susan grabbed the whole bouquet and insisted that I take her picture with some of the staff.
The next day, I gave Susan her pictures. I also gave pictures to Clara and Elizabeth.
Clara stared quizzically for a long time at her photo and asked me three times who it was.
“Why, it’s you, Clara,” I replied tenderly each time. “It’s you.”
At first, she drew a blank, then she started to laugh.
“Oh, thanks a million, you’ve made my day!” she exclaimed, tucking her picture for safekeeping into her waistband.
Elizabeth looked at her photo and beamed. “Is that really me?” she asked. “Can I have it?” I said sure and she laughed a silly schoolgirl’s laugh. She clutched her picture for the longest time, and then dropped it to the floor, forgetting it altogether.
Our flower party was a triumph of the human spirit, but weeks later the totally unexpected happened: A state inspector banned flowers in the Alzheimer’s ward. The rationale was that someone might ingest the flowers, since many were poisonous.
This seemed a shame. After all, these Alzheimer’s patients had so much already taken from them: Their homes, their independence, their hobbies, their old friends. Now flowers.
But wait, these old souls deserved to experience the beauty of a real rose, not just a black-and-white drawing. So, I hatched a plan: I would smuggle in a rose. I sneaked the contraband past the front desk into the Alzheimer’s ward and asked Mom and her friends to take a big, strong whiff of its heavenly aroma.
Helen: “Oh, that’s good!”
Phillip: “This smells so nice!” Phillip’s face flushed red, the color of the rose. He looked so happy.
Clara: “Thank you.”
Mom: “This is such a beautiful rose. You can take a picture if you want. That’s too pretty not to take a picture of. Look how full it is!”
“You got it, mom!” I said, snapping her photo.
The rose brings wonder to all who embrace it, who see in it youthful freshness even when the bloom is gone and the scent is faint. The rose is as much of a symbol as a reality, and strikes deep into the tenderness of the human spirit. The rose is the spirit that loves beauty and the soul that craves perfection.
In the Alzheimer’s ward, the rose was now more than a fading memory.
Copyright ©2016 by Ron Cooper.
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