An Open Letter to 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.