Alzheimer’s At The Church Christmas Social

THE ANNUAL CHURCH CHRISTMAS SUPPER

Boy at Christmas dinner with a menu of cookies

This little guy chose his own dinner at the Christmas party, typical of kids his age and okay at this once a year event.

December 14, 2012 — We were always there whether they served ham, turkey or roast beef — all with mashed potatoes, gravy, lots of salads and the customary green bean casserole. It was almost tradition that early or mid-month in December we read the announcement, complete with a sign-up sheet requesting side dishes and desserts for the annual Christmas dinner to be held in the rec hall – a real gymnasium with basketball hoops at either end — but more formerly referred to as the church cultural hall. During those early years when Ken and I were young, with five little ones, our family took up nearly a whole table. Then as our nest emptied and we dwindled back to just the two of us we still attended most of these pre-Christmas celebrations at our church sitting with friends who had also become empty-nesters.

SOMETIMES WE WERE IN CHARGE

There were times when Ken and I, with a committee, were in charge of bringing all of the scattered ends together to make one big gala evening: Menu, decorating people, line up a program, plan a skit, have someone direct the children in the Nativity scene, arrange for a pianist and chorister so we could sing our favorite Christmas Carols, set-up and clean-up volunteers, food and most important of all, for the children, a visit from the Jolly Old Elf, St. Nick, and don’t forget the candy canes for Santa’s handout. And there were times when Ken put on the red suit trimmed in white fur himself.

THE LAST TIME

For several years, even after Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s we went to most of the church dinners which were usually held once a month. It was always nice to get out knowing we would be comfortable with people who knew us and shared the sadness of watching with dismay as Ken’s disease progressed. There seemed, however, to be something about entering the church that brought Ken back into reality even though leaving home he might have been dubious about getting into the car.

“Hello,” he would say to an acquaintance, “how are you doing?” Reaching forward to shake a few hands everyone suddenly became a long, lost friend.  I doubt that most people really knew what level Ken was on during those earlier times, but then most people don’t live with Alzheimer’s.  Nevertheless, Ken was his usual friendly self when surrounded by people he knew and loved.

Then one evening as we sat among the Christmas greenery at our table Ken turned to our friend Van and asked, “Have you seen my wife? She seems to have disappeared.” Van’s smile dropped and a look of puzzlement covered his face. A small frown crowded his eyebrows as he looked at me wondering what to say. “I’ll be right back,” I said, excusing myself to get something to drink. Returning with two glasses of punch I handed one to Ken and sat down where I had been sitting. “Oh, there you are,” Ken exclaimed. “Where have you been?” It was easy to make small talk as he leaped back into reality and the evening resumed. “It’s all right,” I whispered to Van, as the party continued, “he’ll be fine. With Alzheimer’s fading in and out happens.”

TIME MARCHES ON

But he wasn’t fine, nor would he ever be fine. He was losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. During the years that followed we tried to get out to activities, but it was becoming more and more stressful and I found it was just easier on both of us to miss this monthly social. I also found that even attending church services on Sundays with him had become something he just couldn’t do any longer.

CHRISTMAS DINNER IN THE AFTERNOON

children's choir at ward Christmas dinner

A children’s choir sings Christmas carols, typical of entertainment at the dinner.

“Well that will be different,” I said to me when I read the notice. The powers that be had decided to change the traditional dinner time of 6:30 to 1:00 in the afternoon. “This I can manage,” I continued to me, signing up to bring a trifle for dessert. Ken will be home with Ben and I can visit with friends and catch up on what’s going on in our church community.

THE FIRST TIME

It had been years since Ken and I had attended the dinners. Severe AD brought, and kept, more important issues on my mind. Besides, night events were out of the question, and I really hadn’t given much thought to anything social until I entered the decorated cultural hall – alone – my first time without Ken: alone because of Alzheimer’s. I paused holding my trifle searching the room for familiar faces. There were many in attendance – lots of couples, families with children. Suddenly, without Ken I felt not only alone but a tad uncomfortable wondering where I could fit in. A twinge of panic ran through my heart and I wanted to cry and go home where I would sit with Ken and wish that he could come back to me. It’s times like this that I missed us being us.

Then I saw them waving: a table filled with friendly female faces – most of them widows or single.  There was Shirleen and Sandy and Olga and others all encouraging me to sit with them. Someone took my trifle to the dessert table and I joined my welcoming friends.  A few minutes later we saw Glen.  A recent widower he wandered aimlessly then spotting us he pulled up a chair.  There was something about where we all were in our lives that gave a feeling of oneness in our common loss.  I took a deep breath and knew I would be all right.  All of us would be all right.

We ate, listened to our talented friends on stage, sang Christmas Carols, and watched the children present the Nativity. Mary and Joseph held their baby tenderly while the narrator read from Luke; the shepherds, though, fidgeted, wiggled and those sitting followed the grooves on the floor boards with their fingers, or made faces at others while the wise men gazed at the stage ropes before offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. It was perfect, just as it had been perfect when our own children were small and stood in the same places dressed in similar costumes of bath robes, towels and paper crowns while another young mother read the same scripture – so very long ago when Alzheimer’s wasn’t the ever-present demon in our lives.

MERRY CHRISTMAS KEN

“May I take a plate for Ken,” I asked picking up my trifle dish in the kitchen. “Of course,” said Sue piling up pieces of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy – not to forget the green bean casserole — plus rolls and butter onto a sturdy paper plate, covering it with foil. “Thanks,” I said. “I won’t be needing dinner, but Ken will enjoy this.” I glanced into the trifle dish. “Hummm,” I said to me. “Just enough for a couple more servings: one for him and, of course,  one more for me.”

Alzheimer’s had kept Ken from the church dinner, but it didn’t really matter, I brought the church dinner to him. He did miss out on the singing and the Nativity, but that’s all right too. When family comes we can sing again, and someone will read to them and to Ken from Luke – reminding all of us – “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree……………………”

Photos courtesy of Tracy M. at http://dandelionmama.com/2010/12/19/ward-christmas-party-fuzzy-pictures-the-sweetness-of-mormon-life/

Originally posted 2012-12-17 05:07:45.

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