Friday, April 18, 2014

An Open Letter to Disney

Dear, Disney;

How do I adequately thank you for the gift you gave my sister Lyn in her recent visit?  You gave her a moment that enchanted her and that paused time around her.  You gave my Mom and me a memory that we will keep for her for the rest of our lives.  You see, my sister has Early On-set Alzheimer's and is rapidly loosing her ability to remember basic skills, names or memories laid down in her own recent history.  She's long spoken about wanting to visit Disneyland and we were able to make that happen earlier this month.  You, dear Disney, made the rest happen and, for that, we are deeply grateful.

When we surprised Lyn with the news of the trip to Disney, she made no particular requests.  She was just happy to go.  I had made it my personal goal to try to get her to meet a Disney Princess, especially Cinderella.  Cinderella has long been Lyn's favorite princess and graces numerous items in her room. 

After checking into City Hall on the first day of the visit, we headed over to the Royal Hall and waited in line to meet a princess.  The line moved quickly and the little girls around us bounced in excitement as they waited their turn.  Lyn was patient.  She knew we were in line to see the Princesses but it didn't seem to connect with her what that meant.  She was soon ushered in to meet Ariel.

Ariel was gracious as all the Disney Princesses were.  Lyn was happy to meet her because she is so pretty, but there was no connection.  (You can see how her body is turned away from Ariel in the above picture.)  It was just another character experience.  A few words were exchanged and a half-hearted hug was issued for the obligatory picture.

The same was true when she met Aurora at the end of our time in the Royal Hall.  Aurora welcomed Lyn and congratulated her on her first visit to Disneyland.  She tried to engage Lyn in conversation but was mostly unsuccessful through no fault of misstep of her own.  

Lyn's interaction with Cinderella, however, is a very different experience.

From the moment we turned into Cinderella's nook, Lyn was captivated.  I heard her breath catch as Cinderella greeted her and welcomed her into the nook.  I quickly remembered to pass the photo pass card to the photographer who began taking pictures.

Cinderella expressed delight at Lyn's visit and acknowledged it was her first time in Disneyland.  She asked Lyn what was her favorite part of her day so far and Lyn whispered "Meeting you!".  Cinderella took her hands and continued to speak to Lyn.  

I don't remember all that they said because, to be honest, I was crying.  I heard Mom whisper "I'm not going to look at you or I'll cry too."  Cinderella must have heard us whispering because she tried to coax us into a picture.  "No, thank you.  I need to stay behind the camera today.  This is for her."  I replied.  Cinderella turned back to Lyn to devote more time and attention to her.

The court photographer saw the tears streaming down my face and came to rub my shoulder.  "Are you OK?"  he asked.  "Yes.  She has Alzheimer's and won't remember this for too long.  But, we will."  He took 15 pictures of Lyn and Cinderella over the course of about 10 minutes.  I thought it was closer to 5, but the photo pass time stamps prove that we were unaware of the passage of time.  

At no point were we made to feel like we needed to move along.  We were loathe to break Lyn's enchantment with Cinderella because making a connection is so difficult for an Alzheimer's patient.  We were so happy to see her make that connection and to see her filled with happiness and awe simply because Cinderella greeted her and made her feel special for the time they were together.  In that moment, no one and nothing else mattered.  The meeting with Cinderella made the entire trip worth all that went into it.  

So, thank you, dear Disney, for giving us this gift of a moment.  Thank you for letting my sister feel connected to Cinderella in a way that we could not really hope to witness.  Thank you for making her feel like there is magic and that it was around her.  Even when she forgets, we will remember and we will forever love Cinderella and her kindness to Lyn.

Most sincerely,

Lyn's Sister

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Disney Character Encounters

Through out the Disney parks, the various characters come out to spend time meeting the guests and posing for photos.  Their time is limited and lines quickly form as folks are eager to get an autograph, a hug and a picture.  We had a couple of missed encounters, but there were so many available to Lyn that she was happy with what she did experience.  Some of the characters even pulled her out of the crowd for a hug which delighted her even more.

There were characters in cars who waved to the crowds.  Lyn waved back and called out to Goofy and Pinoccio.  I'm pretty sure she didn't know the names of Chip and Dale.  That's OK.  She liked waving to them.

She got hugs from many of the characters over the course of her three day adventure.  Pluto was sweet with her.  He's a big flirt!

Cruella was brusk with most visitors.  She would say things like "Hurry up, darling.  I don't have all day!"  She said nothing brusk to Lyn and patiently stood for a picture before rushing off to hunt for more puppies.  

She was much less gentle with me and I felt very anxious just trying to get a picture with her.  I loved it though.

The next day, Minnie gave her a hug before returning to the bakery to make more cheesecake.

She was also excited to see Tigger.

She was pulled out of the crowd to dance with Phineaus and Ferb.  It overwhelmed her and she froze.  Afterwards, she kept saying that my youngest would have loved that encounter.  She's right.

She was impressed with the height of Frozone.  Since she didn't know who he was, she was not interested in a hug.

She wasn't too sure about meeting Flick either but gamely posed for a picture.

Goofy appeared to conduct the music and water show at the Pier in California Adventure park.  When he was done, he bounded down from his stand and grabbed her for a hug, much to the consternation of his tender.  She was excited.

The character encounters were an important part of what made Lyn's trip to Disney so successful.  They were small moments, for the most part, but they delighted her.  She would get excited when she recognized one and loved that she could get a hug.

At one point in her trip, she wanted to see the Muppet movie experience.  So they went to that location in the park and quickly discovered the experience was no interactive and did not have characters to encounter.  The Muppet movies were played to screens.  Lyn was hot, tired and suddenly disillusioned.  This is not what she wanted at all.

Lyn spotted an employee named Chris and proceeded to ask him a number of questions, conveying her disappointment.  Mom could see a melt-down brewing and knew she needed to get Lyn to a spot where she could cool down physically as well as emotionally.  Chris asked them to wait just a moment.  He wanted to do something to try to make Lyn happier and less upset.

He took them into a gift shop where there was some air conditioning and hurried into the back.  He came out with a receipt book and asked Lyn to pick out an item that she liked.  The majority of the shop was filled with Muppet themed items and Lyn quickly spotted a shirt she liked.  Chris logged it into the shop's receipt book and the clerk bagged up Lyn's shirt.

Mom was stunned.  Chris was giving the shirt to Lyn free of charge because he wanted to make up for her disappointment.  To Mom, he had perceived that Lyn was having difficulty understanding the nature of the Muppet experience and wanted to help.  It was a kindness that was unexpected.  It worked.  Lyn was mollified and a melt-down was avoided.

If Chris should ever read this:  Thank you.  Your kindness and care for the park's guests is greatly appreciated.  I've read about some of what Disney employees have done to make customers happy.  Many of those stories touch me.  I never anticipated that we would find ourselves in such an experience.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Disney Adventures

Lyn's days at Disney can only be classified as a huge success.  She was captured by "The Happiest Place on Earth" and was able to direct where she went and what she did.

We arrived pretty early on Saturday.  (Please ignore the Sun position above. I took that picture at the end of the day).  It was our one day to spend together before my conference began.  I wanted to make the most of it and the few goals I had set without consulting Mom and Lyn were within the realm of possibilities; meet a Princess, ride the carousel, have fun.

We started off with a quick check in at City Hall.  This allowed us to secure a disability pass for Lyn. While we didn't use it for timing our arrival at the rides, we quickly learned that we could show it to an employee when ready to board a ride to alert them to Lyn's mobility issues.  Her lack of depth perception and her shuffling gait require an extra hand or three when boarding or debarking rides.  

The very kind clerk in City Hall realized we were first timers to the park and whipped out buttons that declared it was our first time there.  The buttons caused every employee we met to congratulate us on our first visit, ask us what we've enjoyed so far and generally make a small fuss over us.  Lyn loved the attention and started approaching staff about half way through the day to declare "Today is my first time here!"  

After City Hall, we rode the Omnibus over to Cinderella's Castle.

Lyn dutifully posed for a picture in front of the castle.

From there, we went to the Royal Hall in search of a Princess before riding the Jungle Cruise.  (More on the Princess encounter on Friday.)  

Lyn needed an extra hand getting in and out of the boat.  She enjoyed the ride and laughed at some of the jokes.  Mom was excited about the Jungle Cruise as well, having wanted to ride it ever since she was a kid and Walt Disney would give weekly updates on the construction of the park in each Sunday's Wonderful World of Disney television show.

When we perused the souvenir shops, Lyn played along when we asked her to put on some ears.  She didn't want to buy any, but she did let me take a picture.

She humored my request to ride the carousel and the train.  

We even got her to go on the Mark Twain paddle boat.  She wanted to go on the Pirate ship but that had to wait for the next day.

Not long after this picture was taken, we decided it was enough for one day and headed out of the park.  The second day followed much the same way.  The third was spent at Disney's California Adventure park which was right next to Disneyland.  While I was not there with them for the second and third day, they had a wonderful time at each.  

Tomorrow, we'll look at the character encounters Lyn experienced and Friday, we'll wrap up with the Princess story.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Little Surprise

A little over a week ago, Mom and her lovely neighbor went to pick Lyn up from day hab.  While they were there, Mom announced to the staff that Lyn would not be at day hab on for three days because she was going to Disneyland.

As Mom was talking, her lovely neighbor was ready with the camera to snap a picture of the moment Lyn realized what was being said.  Lyn was immediately excited and expressed regret that some of the day hab staff were unavailable to share in the good news right then.

Mom and I had planned this for a couple of months.  I had a work conference scheduled there in Anaheim and could arrange an extra day there to spend some time with them.  Mom and Lyn could fly in and have a vacation that they both have wanted for a very long time.  My conference turned out to be a great excuse.

The next morning, they flew to California and took a shuttle to their hotel.  Lyn, at that point, still thought the surprise was just for the two of them.  She knew I was away at a conference but had not realized my conference was in California or that I had arranged to meet up with them.  My flight into LAX from the East Coast actually placed me there several hours before their arrival.  When they arrived, Mom called to tell me and included "We'll talk to you in a few days."  That call allowed me to meet them at the lobby of their hotel.

I didn't step out to greet them.  I tried to sneak a picture or two of them through the lobby window as they unloaded from the shuttle.

She spotted me and recognized me even through I was out of context.  Mom, of course, played along.

She was not mad to see me despite how this picture looks.  She was excited and completely surprised.  It started her Disneyland trip off on a good note.

After getting checked into their room, the three of us were able to walk down the street for a bite of dinner.  Lyn had done well on the flight and was so happy that there was no issue with being out as the sun was setting.

That night, they discovered that their hotel room gave them a perfect view of the nightly fireworks at Disneyland.  All they had to do was open the curtains to enjoy the show.

Monday, April 14, 2014

PSA on Elder Travel

Dear Readers,

If you have a loved one who is showing the least bit of memory loss, confusion, or inability to follow multiple steps of directions, PLEASE ensure they are accompanied by another person when they travel.  Please, do not let them travel on their own because the risk of getting lost is high.  If they have dementia, even if they seem fairly capable, do not rely upon the airport staff to get your loved one where they need to go.  It may not turn out as you intended.

While Lyn travels with a companion, not every individual with dementia does.  To illustrate, I will share what happened to me this week that prompted the above plea.  As I sat crocheting while waiting for my plane to fly home, I realized an elderly man was standing beside me looking around.  I motioned to the seat beside me and invited him to have a seat.

"No, thank you.  I walked away from my bag and I'm trying to find it.  It is blue."
"Do you need some help?" I asked.
"No, thank you." he muttered as he wandered off, looking in each cluster of seats for his bag.

I slowed my stitches and started paying more attention to him as he moved slowly around the six gates around us.  His search was haphazard and I realized his clothes were a bit disheveled.  I became more concerned when I saw him just stop moving to stand in place.  I stuffed my lace into its bag and hurried over to him.

"Did you find your bag?"  I asked.
"Did you find your bag?"  I repeated and saw the interest come into his eyes.  I had just prompted his memory and my heart sank.
"No.  I don't know where my bag is.  It is blue."
"Are you here with anyone?"  My hope was quickly diminishing for his ability to manage the chaos of LAX airport on his own.
"Ok, then.  Let's get you some help.  Is that OK?"  I started scanning the crowd for airport personnel who were not engaged with boarding passengers.
"Yes, please." he responded right as I spotted someone.

I asked the man to stay right there while I rushed to the employee, calling out to him before he could get too far into the crowd.  Fortunately, he heard me and turned.  "Can you please help?  I am very worried about an elderly gentleman who has become separated from his bag and seems confused."  The employee worked for American Airlines and he was immediately attentive.  I took him to where I had left the gentleman.

A short series of questions was asked of the gentleman and we learned he was indeed alone and had been brought to the gate area in a wheel chair.  He didn't know where his wheel chair was parked.  He wasn't sure where he was going and didn't remember who was to meet him there.  He didn't know where his ticket was.  His ticket was poking out of his shirt pocket.  It had his name and destination.  The employee got onto his radio and started requesting assistance, signaling to me that he was taking the man into care.

I rubbed the man's arm and said "He's going to help you now.  Is that OK?"  "Yes."  I took my bags and hurried back to my gate where they were already boarding.  Before I had to go down the jetway, I turned back and saw 5 employees around the gentleman and I worried.  I assume he got to his destination because I've seen no reports of a lost elderly man flying between Los Angeles and Nashville.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Soon to Resume

It is that time of year when my employer gathers our clients together for networking and education.  In other words, I'm off to the annual conference where I stay up too late, talk too much  and walk more miles than I should in heels (they'll be lower than in years past).  I won't be blogging while I'm away.  I won't even attempt it this year.  So, I wish you well while I'm running the halls of the conference center from session to session.

Dementia be Damned will return on Monday, April 14.