Driving up to Greensburg’s Aspen Place Thursday night, one might have mistakenly thought the facility had begun decorating for Christmas.
In a sense, they had — but not with traditional holiday decor. Neither were those decorations meant for the general public.
Aspen Place’s perimeter glowed — front to side to back — with dotted lines of soft, understated yellow light. With darkness fallen and the facility itself visible only in silhouette against the night, those dotted lights were a beacon.
And the people for whom those beacons glowed came; they came and braved the chill to remember; to remember and find strength among other people with family members who’ve suffered or are suffering with one of the world’s most dreaded diseases: Alzheimer’s.
Upon each of the glowing white bags — or luminaries — lining Aspen Place, a single name was written, each representing someone currently suffering from Alzheimer’s or who has died from it. Those names belonged to loved ones of those who attended Thursday night.
Aspen’s Community Services Representative Erin Allen explained that the choice of date for holding Aspen’s “Light of Memory” vigil was no coincidence.
“November is Alzheimer’s awareness month,” she said, “but we intentionally waited to hold the ceremony until after Thanksgiving. We wanted to wait until a little closer to Christmas. Alzheimer’s is extremely tough on patient loved ones during the holidays, and we thought this would serve as a nice reminder to these families that they’re not alone.”
Michelle Weber, LPN, director of Aspen’s secure Alzheimer’s unit, led the vigil.
“Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s,” she said, “can be a frightening and a challenging task. It’s difficult to deal with a loved one who no longer remembers us. Whether you have the disease, are a spouse, a caregiver, or a friend...you are a victim.”
Alzheimer’s, Weber reminded, “is characterized by memory loss, behavioral changes and has no current cure.”
Caregivers and loved ones, she further asserted, lose pieces of their lives every day in caring for a family member with the disease. More, the grieving process for an Alzheimer’s sufferer typically begins before the patient dies.
“Part of the process of grieving,” Weber added, “is to face each loss as it occurs, finding strength and support in others. I’m here this evening to reassure you that eventually your grief will turn into acceptance that your loved one will never return...but will be without pain.”
She also reminded her audience that the needs of each individual Alzheimer’s patient is different; each case should be approached with the patient’s unique treatment and therapy needs in mind.
She finished, “This ceremony this evening is not to grieve our loss, but to celebrate the life of the mother, father, grandparent or sibling suffering or who has suffered from this disease. Let’s walk this journey together with our loved ones, striving to make each day as rewarding as possible, giving the hope that life with Alzheimer’s is worth living.”
After the vigil Weber and Allen were both visibly shaken.
Allen explained that, two days prior, the facility had lost an Alzheimer’s patient whose family was present on Thursday. That patient, she added, was very well liked, making the ceremony particularly difficult for both she and Weber.
“You get so close to these residents,” Allen said, wiping tears from reddened eyes. “You grow to love them — and their families too.”
Allen pointed out, too, that such close bonds between Aspen staff and Alzheimer’s residents illustrates an important fact regarding Alzheimer’s care: Family members needn’t despair of never again having a meaningful relationship with a sufferer of the disease.
“There are specific methods you have to learn to effectively communicate with these patients,” she said. “It’s an adjustment and a learning curve, but it’s possible to have relationships with them.”
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.