I didn’t hate it! Nick Doob is a phenomenal cameraman – and he and Shari Cookson directed and produced this episode. I’m a little baised on that front, he has worked with my husband on a couple of films as well…so I admit that warmed me up for this episode.
Here are my thoughts as I was watching…
The opening segment is about a woman who is really pretty early in her memory loss. She is a hoot, as my mother would say. She gets together with women friends in a singing group and they serenade a local nursing home. The segment almost feels like a commercial for Aricept… “that’s where I got the idea to take pills for my memory” she says…and then later, we see her getting her prescription and swallowing the pills. She seems pretty fine about things. At one point she tells a friend “sometimes I can’t remember your name.” “That’s okay,” her friend says. “I’ll tell you my name if you forget.” THAT to me is HOPE. More than the pill she takes in this segment, which will help for a couple months maybe. But her friends will help her through to the end.
Another segment features a self proclaimed computer genuis, who isn’t anymore. We see him in a therapy session (now THAT is opening yourself to a documentary!) in which he tells his doctor in so many words that he plans to kill himself as soon as he feels that he is “no longer really himself.” It’s important to show this – as this really is what you hear people saying. But it’s also important to show that this isn’t the only option. And that that is painful for the family too.
There’s a segment on a woman living on a farm with her daughter. She speaks only in a kind of sing-song sound and wanders…but we gradually realize that she was and remains an artist. Her daughter photographs little “vignettes” that her mother makes and leaves around the farm for her to find. And they are wonderous. There is clearly emotional pain here – the daughter is so hard on herself when she shows her mother a stone and her mother puts it in her mouth. But there is also mystery and connection on a deep level. The sorrow here is when the daughter says she never had children…and you wonder who will be as tender of a caregiver to her as she is to her mother…
There’s an amazing segment about a man who happily whistles and sings and walks with a tender and loving companion…whom we learn is not his wife. One of the most touching scenes I’ve seen on film about dementia is in this segment. The camera follows the couple as they walk into an empty bedroom and lay down on the bed together. The hold each other. She strokes his chest as though they were newly weds.
His wife and daughter are rather astounding – they walk in and warmly greet the two of them and explain to her that he’ll be back soon. They take him to a concert of his singing group – and in the car he asks over and over again where they are going. When the choral leader introduces him as leading a song…we really don’t think it’s possible. And then the miracle of music and memory – he sings clearly, confidently, beautifully – the entire song. A standing ovation erupts. This is community. This is the arts bringing people with dementia into community. Wow. And then in the car – he has no idea again.
There is a haunting segment about a woman experiencing hallucinations – which can be part of the Alzheimer’s experience. There is a lovely moment in the beauty salon when a fellow resident tries to comfort her clearly paralyzing anxiety. But one of the most difficult moments in the show is when her son struggles with his mother not remembering him. It shouts out for the need to help families move beyond memory – just be there with her, talk to her in the now, try to comfort her anxiety. It’s hard…but it is possible.
There is a segment on Cliff, magician and host of a beloved and long-running children’s television show. His wife is elegant and loving – and makes you wonder why some people get this and not others? Truly, why? We watch him edge toward hospice, and then are privy to his final moment. It is a true gift of this loving family to share this moment with others who will soon face it. May they be fortunate enough to experience the quality of hospice care that Cliff did…
And after this powerful moment in hospice, we end where we began, with the woman taking her memory pills…leaving us anticipating the potential trajectories of her journey into Alzheimer’s.
The messages of this episode were more complex than I anticipated…they showed the incredible power of the arts to help people communicate with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia – and the incredible NEED for these programs. MORE MORE MORE! Right now, companionship, community and creative expression are doing much more than that pill.