ShellsOne day while walking on the beach, I found a fragment of what must have been a magnificent conch shell…a remnant of a masterpiece, an exquisite shard. I tried to imagine the part as the whole when it was at its best, before it was broken by the churning sea…and time. The shell must have been an elegant exoskeleton, a prime example of its species. Now, all that remained was a chunk of pink and white shell, its scalloped edge chipped and scratched. Its complex shape, intricate design, and brilliant colors had vanished as the crashing surf took its toll.
I thought of my mother, a victim of Alzheimer's disease for the past five years. At age 78, wheelchair bound, unable to walk or speak coherently, she resides in a nursing wing of a retirement home. In recent years, she has become an exquisite shard of the magnificent person she once was, before she was broken by degenerative disease…and time. She is the remnant of a masterpiece.
Those of us who knew her in her prime still see her as the loving mother, warmhearted husband, and fun-loving sister she used to be. We know her as the gifted teacher, the outstanding church and community leader, the confidante and friend, the lover of laughter and music, the wearer of beautiful hats that she wore most of her years. We love her all the more for the change in herself that she has had to endure.
Those of you who know her now see only the shell of a once-vital person, a lovely fragment of a magnificent individual. As caregivers for the elderly, it must be difficult to imagine the people you work with as the young people they once were. As you feed them, walk with them, change their clothes, endure angry outbursts, bathe them, and tuck them in at night, please know that families and friends…and the individuals themselves…are grateful when you show respect and kindness, and handle them as gently as a once-exquisite shell.