A Reflection by Kate’s Memory Cafe Facilitator – Katie Donovan
One year ago, the first gathering of the Memory Café happened in the “Good Morning” room at Helping Hands Respite Care. It was so exciting to see this program launched. My excitement was quickly eclipsed by a wave of sadness when Hank and Sue got up to dance. The physical similarity of this beautiful couple, so obviously in love, brought back memories of my own Dad and Mom and their struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I had to step out of the room to compose myself for a few minutes. Learning that they had just recently gotten their diagnosis reminded me of what a tough journey they would have ahead of them.
You see, my father had Alzheimer’s and ultimately passed away in March of 2004 after years in the clutches of this progressive disease. The challenges that these caregivers are facing daily bring back so many memories for me. Yet, facilitating the Memory Café has been such a blessing in my life. I feel such a kinship with the people who come – both those with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia and their care partners.
During the time of Dad’s progression with the illness our family was fortunate – we had a mother who was a strong and resourceful caregiver. I was part of a sibling group who found a way to be on the same page about care for both Dad and Mom despite the fact that two of the four of us were not able to participate on a day-to-day basis except by phone and email. Yes, we faced frustrations. Yes, we were often confused about new stages and behaviors related to the disease that we saw in Dad; and yes, we were concerned about the near future and the health of our mother as the burden of care extended from months into years.
Kate’s Memory Cafe #1 Volunteer
For nearly every gathering of Kate’s Memory Cafe, my Mom has come along to be my “#1 Volunteer.” She is 86 and is not as strong as she used to be; she has recently surrendered her driving privileges, and unwillingly succumbed to the reality that she needs hearing aids. I admire her spunky attitude and her amazing ability to make new friends. But, my heart breaks a little bit each time because I know that Mom has a form of dementia which seems to be progressing.
The lesson that I continue to learn (and often share at the Memory Cafe) is that every day is a blessing and it is my job to respond to my Mom’s confusion with compassion, and to her endless loop of stories as if I am hearing them for the first time. I remain vigilant for those moments of clarity that she still has, and eagerly welcome a new reminiscence about her life that I have never heard before. (Just a few weeks ago I learned that my Dad painted his car with flat black house paint on the day before he and Mom got married.)
It is such an honor to share new ideas and resources with the care partners who bring their loved one to Kate’s Memory Café. At Helping Hands Respite Care we are pleased to have the financial support of the AF Group to cover the costs of the Memory Café, making it possible for us to continue to offer this opportunity for respite, fun, and relaxation to all who might wish to come.
Hank and Sue still get up to dance at the Memory Cafe, although Hank is losing his words and sometimes forgets that Sue is his wife. For many who attend the lessons on the importance of respite are beginning to sink in, and our numbers are growing. Why do I spend my free time on the Memory Café? I do it for the memory of Dad, I do it for Mom, I do it for me.
Kate’s Memory Café is a free service offered at the offices of Helping Hands Respite Care once a month on the second Sunday (except when the date coincides with a major holiday). It is for those with a diagnosis of early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s or Dementia and their care partner. A care partner could be a spouse, a sibling, an adult child, or anyone else who has taken on the primary responsibility for care. The aim of the Memory Café is to offer both an understanding and appreciation for respite, and the tools to help the primary caregiver build a natural support team. The gathering includes socialization, live music, snacks and a meal, a fun activity and a brief educational opportunity for the care givers. To learn more or to reserve a spot email : Katie@helpinghandsrespite.org