My Shadow, My Friend

(April 2018)

According to Buddha, “Attachment is the source of all suffering.”

If you accept this statement, you might assume that all who suffer from dementia and exhibit loyalty must be miserable. However, consider  a devoted pet that follows your every move because it feels unconditional love and the need for assurance from its owner.

This is what I refer to as an optimistic perspective.  What really matters is how the receiver perceives the constant attention.

I guess you can say Buddha never met Jeanie, a woman in her early 70s who lived in a world dominated by her advanced Alzheimer’s. While there is a sense of truth to the link between suffering and devotion, had Buddha got to know Jeanie and the people who cared for her he might have altered his point of view on connection and what made Jeannie tick.

Jeanie moved into the facility and by the time I first met her our relationship became cemented.  From this point on, there wasn’t a moment outside of her personal care and meals that Jeanie wasn’t with two feet of me.  For instance, when I arrived to work, standing outside my office door in plain sight from the nurses’ station, she would make a beeline down that hallway prancing towards me. And there she remained by-my-side throughout the whole day as my shadow unless I had to leave the floor or until her husband showed up.

In the beginning, her constant presence was a tad bit annoying but over a short period, it became a blessing, odd as it may sound. Jeanie was non-verbal but still capable of expressing her emotions.

Jeanie smiled a lot and  agreed to any task you might ask of her such as holding things for you as you were organizing your desk. She sat in on every activity providing her full attention and exhibited no signs of disapproval or anger. Steadfast and sitting across from me when I facilitated my first poetry group and I can still see her expression as if she was assuring me, this is good. Jeanie was just content to be by my side.

I didn’t realize how important she had become until she wasn’t there. 

I have always believed people with dementia become a more obvious version of what they always were, and I now saw Jeanie as the person before Alzheimer’s took over, always tranquil, non-judgmental and supportive. I saw her as a confidant who always laughed at my jokes.

What I came to feel was she was my friend and not just my shadow.

I understand what Buddha meant when he stated, “Attachment is the source of all suffering.” And I used his quote to make a point. As this relates to Jeanie, I know that most people who knew her in the Nursing Home thought of her as needy, clingy and a  victim of a wretched disease. That was all true, however, I saw something different in Jeanie, beyond the Alzheimer’s.

As I stated earlier, Jeanie left but just for a short time and when she returned, she resumed her routine and role as my shadow. Now it was I who left permanently as I resigned my position. I thought leaving Jeanie would be hard at first for both her and I, but working in this field you must respect the caregiver environment and know that others would look out for Jeanie once left.

It’s been over twenty years since I last saw Jeanie and I often think of her.  This occurs when a client follows me into the office or I perform a poetry program for the first time. I then remember and can still see her smiling across the table and then I know it’s all good.

Like in the story, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the reader learns it's important to look beneath the surface where you can find the truth and meaning of something. In the story, it’s the Fox, who is the real teacher who shows the Prince how to see with his heart instead of his eyes only. And in my story, it is Jeanie who is the teacher; Jeanie is the fox.

Jeanie didn’t use words but through her actions and behavior, she instilled unconditional friendship where I learned to look beyond the obvious, the shadow. 

Where ever you may be Jeanie, you will always be my shadow, my friend, and the fox.

 

the Little Prince

My Friendly Silhouette

Shadows are like friends as they never leave your side
They’re right there as you walk the path
As if safety is their rule
They mimic every move, so they must like what you do
They’re never far away, even when you sleep
Then back for morning sunshine, they’re back for us to keep

   -Grandma J & Zachary Preston

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