I was the favoured niece of my Aunt Margaret. She lived across the road from me as I was growing up and when she had to go to Long Term Care it broke my heart. My older brother and I shared her care with my other siblings pitching in as needed. Aunt Margaret had never married and had no children so we were the ones closest to her.
Aunt Margaret had a wonderful sense of humour and even with her dementia taking over her life she seemed to be able to find humour and delight in small things. Perhaps, because of her dementia, she didn’t realize how funny she was being but when I broke into laughter over something she said she would always join in.
Her love of anything chocolate was legendary in the Long Term Care home along with her propensity to collect things. Her home had been full of her collections of music boxes, royal Dolton figures, buttons , tea spoons just to name a few of the things that she loved.
She left all these collections behind when she entered care other than a few Royal Dolton figures that sat in the glass case outside her room.
As soon as she began living in the Home she began to collect teddy bears. Family and friends realized that small fuzzy bears brought her much joy. Her walker became loaded with them because she carefully tied as many as possible onto the bars with ribbons and string, the bigger bears sat on the seat of the walker and her walker basket was full of bears that would not fit anywhere else. She loved giving her collection rides around the home and introducing them to her friends and sharing chocolate kisses. Chocolate and bears became the usual gifts from her visitors.
One day I noticed that the bears seemed dirty – as if their faces had been rubbed in mud. I asked her what happened and she was able to tell me that her bears were hungry and she had to feed them. I realized then that the mud was actually chocolate.
One of her care givers told me that they tried to reason with her but she insisted on giving each bear chocolate. Apparently it entertained her for the better part of a day making sure each bear got their fair share. Her careful feeding was evident in the chocolaty grins and messy faces of her bears! She began to laugh at me when I told her I thought the bears were messy eaters.
Aunt Margaret with a twinkle in her eye said “Well clean them then”.
We spent the next few hours over a soapy bubble bath in the sink of her shared bathroom gently scrubbing the faces of her dear bears – she loved the bubbles and had the most fun throwing them at me while I worked on bear after bear.
The bears survived and so did I and Aunt Margaret hung them all up to dry on a rope I strung across her room. She seemed proud of the bear laundry and invited residents into see her clean bears carefully and lovingly hung by one ear on the line with clothes pins.
After she died we gave the bears away to family and friends but I kept one that still had traces of chocolate on it. It was a bear she hid from me on that day we washed them, it was her secret chocolate eating bear. I found it beside a bag of chocolate in the corner of her clothes cupboard sporting a chocolaty grin.
It is years since she died but teddy bears and chocolates will always bring her back for me. I hear her laugh and remember that twinkle in her eye. We played a lot with those teddy bears the years she lived in Long Term Care. I treasure those happy moments of joy that we shared. Entering her world was at first difficult for me and then suddenly as she slipped into dementia these joy filled moments nurtured us both.
Sometimes people think that life stops when someone enters Long-Term Care but that is not the way it was for Aunt Margaret and me. After coming to terms with my aunt’s disease and accepting her just as she was rather than whom she had been, we found joy together. I didn’t think about it at the time, but now upon reflection, these small simple pleasures of teddy bears, chocolate and shared laughter have become my most treasured memories of her.
By: Lorraine Purdon, Family Councils' Program Director of Planning & Partnerships.