A few times a month I visit Bridgette. I sit on the floor next to the recliner where I can usually find her in the locked Alzheimer's unit of a nursing home. I sit on the floor, and rest my chin on the arm of the upholestered chair, and touch her arm gently and talk to her softly. Sometimes I sing hymns to her, or hum quietly. Bridgette mostly spends my time with her staring into space, or fidgeting with her right hand, rubbing her palms up and down again and again on the leg of her polyester pants. She sits, her shoes laceless, the remnants of her chicken stir-fry lunch dried on her shirt, seemingly oblivious to this well-meaning Hospice chaplain.
I've heard tell that she has family, a sister from California who comes once a year or so, but whose health is also on a downward spiral. The nursing home notes don't mention other visitors, so I suppose the Hospice nurse, social worker and I would be the only dates penciled into her hypothetical daytimer.
Bridgette has a particularly debilitating form of Alzheimer's. Bridgette is more than just "pleasantly confused." Her dementia has alienated her even from her language, from the common grammar and syntax which she has known for a lifetime for when she tries to form sentences, her speech comes out in a backward and stilted way. In the past six months, I have never heard her form a complete thought, or even string a few words together in a coherent fashion. Instead, in the rare instances that she does speak, her verbs and nouns get all jumbled and she'll say, "Yes..said.. that.. we.. here" or "I.. think.. don't.. so..he...well." The words are a random mix...jumbled...tangled. Thankfully, Bridgette doesn't seem to notice after one of her proclamations is met with confusion by others. But I simply smile and nod. And then Bridgette goes back to wearing a hole in the fabric of her pant leg.
Today seemed to be no different than any other visit. The Jamaican nurse who cares for Bridgette greeted me in the hallway and said, "You here to see Miss Bridgette today?" And then to Bridgette, "Miss...look, your friend...she's here again." Bridgette kept at the task at hand of fidgeting. I sat on the floor, greeted her, hummed my hymns, rested my chin on the chair, ran my fingers gently up and down her wrist. The Jamaican nurse and I talked about how pretty Bridgette's hair looked. The man who smells like urine sat behind me and poked at my head while asking, "Do you have any 3/8ths socket wrench?" It was sort of a typical Friday with Bridgette in the Alzheimer's unit.
I got up to leave after about fifteen minutes. I leaned forward to kiss Bridgette on the forehead as I always do, but this time Bridgette stopped me. In an effort that required eye-hand coordination, Bridgette took both her hands and cradled my face as I got about six inches away. I stopped, shocked at her reaction, startled even further to notice that she was looking me in the eyes, training herself on me. I paused and just watched her, five or ten seconds passed, and then in a clear voice Bridgette spoke, "This is all good."
A full sentence. A human connection. The words of God spoken through an ailing woman's lips. I have never heard a more beautiful benediction. It is, for today, all good.