“The Red Bike”
One of my most precious memories when working with an Alzheimer’s resident came from a very hurt son. I had developed a wonderful relationship with a gentleman that I had moved into the Memory Care center. I also had a great relationship with his two daughters who lived locally. We communicated every day. I had heard that Mr. Smith’s son Jeremy was coming down from Connecticut. I have never met Jeremy and he has not seen his dad in over a year. Jeremy’s sisters were in the lobby anticipating his arrival. I saw them hug and embrace Jeremy and then they escorted him back to see dad.
Mr. Smith was such a wonderful man. He was always happy. He loved telling stories. He had such a charm about him that it was impossible not to smile in his presence. He was a retired electrical engineer and lived a very humble life with his two daughters, son and wife. He and his wife traveled the world. Each picture in his apartment tells a story. Each story is a reminder of a wonderful life that he has lived. He would walk by pictures of his trips, his family, his life and tap each one and laugh as if he was brought back to that special place.
I saw Jeremy rush out of the Memory Center alone. He was angry. His sister ran after him and he nudged her away. It was apparent that something was wrong. “Jeremy, is everything alright?” I ask as I am handing him a bottle of water. “You wouldn’t understand. Everything is fine.” He says as he takes the water out of my hand. I sit next to him. My silence is telling him that I am here when and if he needs me. I can tell he doesn’t want to talk. I respect that. I smile as I stand and place my hand on his shoulder, “I am here if you need anything. I know this is not easy.”
Without making eye contact, he says in a very firm tone, “Don’t tell me what things are! You have no idea.” I sit back down. His face is so red and he is extremely angry. I swear I can see blood boiling in his face. “My dad doesn’t even know who I am and you are telling me that everything will be ok. MY DAD DOESN’T EVEN KNOW MY NAME! HE DOESN’T RECOGNIZE ME!!!!” He is yelling at me. Full blown yelling. I sit there and let him yell for as long as it takes to make him feel better. I saw someone run over to see if I was alright. I held my hand up to the guy running over to let him know all was ok and that I didn’t need rescuing. In fact, Jeremy needed rescuing. With every word that he is yelling, comes a lot of pain. Jeremy took a few sips of his water and apologized to me. I said, “No need to apologize. I do this every day. I know this is new to you but I promise you I understand the pain that you are going through.”
He sat there shaking his head as if he was about to start yelling some more. I knew he wanted to be alone but before I left him, I stood up and looked him straight in the eye and said, “You had this bike growing up. This red bike. It was candy apple red. You used to ride it all over your neighborhood. Your dad worked so many shifts to get that bike and because he saw your face light up in front of a store window. You were so excited, you took off and headed straight for this river by your house. He was chasing you. He was out of breath. You slammed on your brakes and fell right off and sliced your hand up pretty bad.” I see him run his finger over a scar on the palm of his hand starring in disbelief. “I know this is tough, but I promise you he knows who you are. He remembers you. He is very proud of his son. That was one of many stories I have heard about your life. He speaks of you all the time. He may not recognize you today but I promise you, he knows who you are. He loves you and he knows you. He will never forget YOU. He forgets things that are going on today but he will never forget you. He just remembers you in another era. Try talking to him in a different era. He will remember you.” I look up and notice the amount of tears streaming down Jeremy’s face. He said, “He told you all of that?” I said, “On more than one occasion.” He leans in to give me a hug and the hysterical crying that came out of him was so therapeutic and magical. Here I stood, standing in the middle of a crowded room with a grown man sobbing on my shoulder and crying louder than I have ever heard anyone cry. “He remembers me. He knows I am his son” He cries out! I can’t even begin to describe how life-changing that moment was for me.
Later on that week, I walked by Mr. Smith’s apartment to see Jeremy and his sisters in dad’s apartment. Jeremy was pointing to a picture of his bike on the wall and I could hear the laughter from all of them in that room. Mr. Smith told that story, word for word to Jeremy. There he was, with his kids laughing as if he was in standing in the middle of 1973 helping Jeremy ride his red bike all over again.
Jeremy’s story is a constant reminder to me that even though I see this on a daily basis; families are going through this for the very first time. I council families though this difficult process every day and Jeremy’s story helps me remember to tell them all about the candy-apple red bike in hopes that they can relate and communicate better with the one that they love.
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the residents.