My friend and colleague Rev. Jade Angelica has shared this touching piece about her encounter with a woman who had Alzheimers and asked her about Santa Claus...
Sending wishes for a beautiful solstice, a merry Christmas, a happy new year. Fondly, Penny
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus By Jade C. Angelica © 2008
It was the Christmas season. As I walked down the long corridor admiring the festive holiday decorations, I noticed Virginia sitting by herself. She appeared restless and antsy. As I passed by her chair on my way to the craft room, Virginia leaned forward and reached out to me with her small, delicate hand.
Almost whispering, she said, “Can you come here? I have to ask you something.”
Moving close to her and taking her hand, I bent down and looked into her eyes. “OK,” I said.
With grave sincerity, she asked, “Is Santa real?”
From the urgency of her expression and the firmness of her grip, I knew the answer to this question was deeply important to Virginia. I also knew, instinctively, that in this moment, the answer to her question was YES.
“Yes,” I said, returning her firm grip. “Yes, Santa is real.”
She relaxed her grip ever so slightly and replied, “I thought so. But they are trying to tell me there isn’t one.”
“Who’s telling you this?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t want to say,” she replied. “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
“Oh no. You mustn’t tell then,” I said, reinforcing her choice to protect the doubters.
Still clearly upset by the quandary, Virginia leaned closer to me and asked, “But what should I do now?”
Taking both of her hands into mine and looking deeply into her eyes, time stopped for me. It was a moment of true connection with Virginia when I replied, “You just keep believing. You just keep believing.”
“Yes.” She took a breath. “Yes. I’ll do that.”
“Just keep believing.” I repeated this like a mantra.
“Thank you,” Virginia said, her sweet smile revealing a row of missing front teeth. “I feel so much better.”
She let go of my hand and sat back in her chair with a sigh of relief, peaceful at last.
Virginia is not the real name of the 99-year-old woman who asked me if Santa is real. I didn’t know her age or her name at the time. It’s possible that she didn’t know either. Virginia lived in a nursing home on the same floor as my mother. Both women had advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Receiving a question about Santa’s existence from a woman who was 99 caught me by surprise, and at first, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Very quickly, though, I remembered the importance of being present in this moment and the healing implications of meeting person’s with Alzheimer’s in their current reality, which for Virginia might have been Christmastime, 1917.
As I reflected on my conversation with Virginia, I realized it was both an endearing and a profound experience for me. After I left her and walked on toward the craft room to work on a project with Mom, I noticed that I felt better. I felt peaceful; joyful.
I also felt inspired. From the intensity of her question, Virginia could have been asking me if there is a God. Given the course of Alzheimer’s disease, every person afflicted with Alzheimer’s, as well as their families and friends who are also affected by this disease, might have wondered about this from time to time. Or, out of her history and the circumstances of Virginia’s life – or any of our lives – she, and we, might sometimes wonder if there is really a reason to hope; or if there is justice or love; or if there will ever be peace in the world. We all might have doubts.
My answer to Virginia’s question was a faith-filled reply: In the face of doubt and fear and resistance, just keep on believing in all things good.
After Mom went to bed, I looked for Virginia to say good night, but I couldn’t find her anywhere. I hoped she slept peacefully that night, still believing in a Giver of Good Gifts. I did.
Over the years of caring for Mom, my belief was rewarded with gifts. The gifts of compassion, patience, joy, unconditional love, and forgiveness – and these are just the tip of the iceberg of submerged gifts that are possible.
Yes. In between the inevitable losses that accompany Alzheimer’s, blessings and gifts are bubbling up. Just keep believing and you will see!
Rev. Dr. Jade Angelica, MDiv, DMin. is the founder and director of Healing Moments for Alzheimer's.
Since 2007, Jade has offered educational workshops, presentations, and caregiver support all across the country. Her work has been studied by the University of Iowa Department of Neurology, and the findings indicate that Meeting Alzheimer’s workshops can reduce caregiver stress, increase caregiver confidence, and improve quality of life. She is the author of Where Two Worlds Touch: A Spiritual Journey Through Alzheimer’s Disease. Jade’s most important and most rewarding ministry, has been caring for her mother, Jeanne, who died from Alzheimer’s in 2011.
Rev. Jade Angelica Founder and Director, Memory Bridge
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