BURGETTSTOWN – Barring vacations, I have been visiting my friend Anna Snatchko once a week since February, and without fail, there are tears in my eyes during my return trip to Washington from Anna’s Burgettstown home. Sometimes they are tears of joy; sometimes, they aren’t.
Anna doesn’t know my name, but I can see a flicker of recognition in her crystal-blue eyes whenever I greet her. And when she flashes her trademark smile – admittedly, not without some occasional coaxing – my heart just melts.
I wish I had known Anna before dementia stole her mind – and her dignity – eight years ago. I only know the kind of woman she was from the stories her family has freely shared with me. They lovingly recall her playful personality and her devotion to her family. She was their rock.
And to some degree, Anna remains a strong, charismatic woman.
A few weeks ago, Anna was lying in her recliner when I arrived, and one look told me the 86-year-old had had a rough week. A gash on her forehead and a cut on her nose were healing, as were the blackened eyes. They were battle scars from when Anna fell in the bathroom and smacked her head on the tub.
Her daughter, Betty Brooks, then lifted the blanket from Anna’s legs to reveal a sizable brush-burn on her right leg. That, Betty said, occurred when Anna got it stuck in her bed rail during the night.
And just two hours before I arrived, Betty went to awaken her mother an hour after she had originally checked on her, only to discover Anna’s sheet, pillowcase and pajamas soaked in blood. The hospice nurse later determined it was a nosebleed, which sometimes occurs among those who use oxygen 24 hours a day.
Through it all, Anna remained upbeat, smiling and fully cooperating with the hospice nurse. While Betty fixed Anna’s lunch, Anna contented herself by playing with oversized, plastic Legos.
Even Betty, who is Anna’s primary caregiver, had what she calls a major breakthrough during the tumultuous week, showing me a Facebook post she wrote: “Ya know, maybe I’ve been looking at this dementia all wrong. Maybe God and my mom were planning her life in heaven. Maybe, just maybe, God said to Mom, ‘Toward the end of your life on Earth, you will be surrounded by the ones who love you, and they will provide for your every need, and you can just sit back and relax until you come home.’ Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Maybe I’m learning.”
Two weeks later, her facial cuts barely visible, Anna again was in good spirits, and she was very talkative.
“Look at you with the pretty blue eyes,” Anna said to me. I have brown eyes, but it didn’t matter to me – and I didn’t correct her. Anna was wide-eyed, smiling and communicating.
She told me that her mother went rollerskating earlier that week. Anna didn’t go, opting to bowl instead.
“Did you bowl a 300 game?” I asked. “No,” Anna said. “I bowled a 350.” I just chuckled.
Then she started saying, “Baby, hey, baby,” calling out to her great-grandson, Corbin, who was visiting. Then, to no one in particular, she said, “Pick him up and bring him here.”
She even yelled, “Hey, Betty,” who was in the bedroom at the time. It’s rare when she calls one of her kids or grandkids by name.
A week later, however, Anna wasn’t as upbeat. She babbled a lot, her words often inaudible. While I was holding Corbin, she did manage to say, “Give Grandma a kiss.” I moved him closer, and Anna planted a tender kiss on his check.
When I told her I had to go back to work, she said, “Until what time?” She then flashed me a smile and playfully raised her left index finger as if to scold me.
Before I walk out the door, I always kiss Anna on the forehead and say, “I love you.” Most times, she says, “I love you, too.”
And with those four words, the tears of joy start to trickle down my cheeks.
Anna Snatchko assembles oversized, plastic Legos while her daughter, Betty Brooks, prepares lunch.
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