Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stepping Into Ron's Shoes

Seeing the Logic Behind Alzheimer's Mind's Wanderings.

Ron* has become one of the fixtures in the Zen Hospice ward. Always ready to strike a conversation with anybody who wants to listen. Yesterday, I sat with him.

Ron is known for his wild stories about his imagined Hollywood past. Yesterday, I learned about his encounter with Mae West, how she had stopped her limo on the freeway, and thrown hundred dollar bills at him. "Just like that! Yes, she did." Tale came on the heel of accurate relating about death he had witnessed that morning on the ward. "You would not believe what I see here!" Ron keeps a meticulous tally of all the comings and goings on the ward, of old staff departing, new staff coming on board, residents dying.

I listened to Ron, and I also observed my mind, and heart. I noticed judgment coming up, right away, about the nonsensical nature of his Mae West story. And with it, boredom, aversion, and contempt. A sense of superiority and disconnectedness that did not sit well with my initial intention to be there for him.  I realized this is how Ron gets received most of the time, and I wondered how it must feel, for him? I started to investigate the reason for Ron's story. 'Crazy mind' has its own logic, I figured. And I made connection with my own mind's tendency to use fantasies and thoughts, to flee unpleasantness in the present moment. Same thing, only I do not share with the rest of the world. I realized Ron's crazy stories are his way of coping with his otherwise unbearable reality.

"Tell me more about Mae West, Ron."

* Not his real name


  1. What stories will we develop when it's our time? Will our minds be gripped in fear?
    I guess thats' why you work in hospice, to help people cope. Keep up the good work, a hand to hold is better than none at all!

  2. Thank you Pete. I find being with people with Alzheimer's to be an incredible practice, in many respects. A great gift.

  3. Beautiful post... and so often we don't stop to take people into our hearts and hear their stories. There's a beautiful woman at my mom's assisted living facility who always dresses to the nines - she's a sweetheart, 92 years old. She "crashed" a party we held there for my mom's birthday - my husband engaged her in talk and allowed her to stay when the facility staff came to tell her it was a private party. Apparently she tends to wander into other people's parties, but I think it was her way of connecting... There are many comings and goings at the assisted care facility - I am sure many of the residents there also know who's died and left or who's been taken away by ambulance. I try to say hello to the "regulars" when I come to visit my mom. It's not quite hospice, but as I've been a more frequent visitor it strikes me that here too, death is ever present and there's a tallying of staff changes and resident changes.

  4. Yes, Lori. Thinking mind may be operating differently, but feeling heart has not changed . . . This requires an attitude shift in people like 'us', away from primary thinking mode, into territory of feeling, and renunciation.

    With much metta, as always.

  5. Thank you for sharing this part of your life. Bodhichitta of compassion so beautiful, of it own accord. Letting go of the mind based analysis and just being with the feeling, it's energy. It's not easy as the trigger happy mind wants so desperately to put in it's own finger in the pie.

    Much peace for you