This summer I had the opportunity to visit one of my best friends, Inez, in New Mexico. As part of my visit, Inez invited me to join her family in attending a special party. The weekend event, hosted by Mike (a long-time friend of Inez’s husband), was in honor of his mother, Susan, who suffers from . The party’s purpose was to bring Susan’s friends and family members together to spend time with her while she could still remember them.
The party was a low-key affair. The party-goers relaxed in various areas around Mike’s house enjoying burgers with all the trimmings and lots of sides. Frank Sinatra’s songs played in the background. Being the newcomer, I tried to introduce myself to the other guests and by chance, found myself sitting next to Susan. Obviously delighted to spend time with family members and her friends, Susan interacted and tried to stay engaged in the conversations. In fact, I initially found it difficult to tell that she had Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t until I asked her a question – where she lived – that the holes in her memory started to show up. Later, she brought a new plate of food to the table, forgetting that she still had a half-eaten plate waiting for her. Yet one could easily see that the chance to be with people (including her three teenage grandchildren) in a comfortable setting gave Susan immense joy. And she joined the rest of us in laughing while watching the antics of Mike’s new kitten as it played and tried to pounce on unsuspecting objects.
Later when I returned home I had the opportunity to learn more from Mike about Susan’s situation and the party. He indicated that Susan had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in summer 2008, although she increasingly had displayed memory lapses since 2005.
The idea of hosting a party came to Mike in late 2008. “I wanted to have a party while she still had the possibility of remembering most of the guests,” he said. “July seemed like it would be a relatively convenient time. I started planning this last December to give invitees from out of state more than enough time to integrate it into their schedules.” Unfortunately, those family members were not able to make the party. Although the guests knew the purpose of the party, Mike told Susan that the party was a barbeque; he didn’t share the news that she was the guest of honor.
Despite his own disappointment that some family members and long-time friends didn’t attend, Mike was pleased to report that Susan did have a great time. “She really enjoyed everyone’s company and reveled in the delightful memory for a couple of weeks afterward,” Mike said.
And the guests who were there also benefitted from the party’s intent. "What I think about when I think about the party and Mike's mom, is the coming together of people who love her and love Mike, and how much beauty there is in that,” Inez said. “I also will always remember Susan's joy watching the kitten play throughout the afternoon.”
Mike’s desire to make his mother happy by holding the party especially struck home with both Inez and me, since we both had a parent who suffered from dementia. “We forget sometimes, when battling an illness such as Alzheimer's or dementia, that there are still moments of great joy and that we need to stop and savor those,” Inez said. “What Mike did, by bringing everyone together, is give us all a chance at joy."
Published On: September 08, 2009