Thursday, November 12, 2015

By any other name . . .

"Evelyn! Evelyn! Can you help me?"

Sibyl started calling me Evelyn about a year ago. That is not my name, not even close. But she was suffering from dementia and wouldn't recognize me from day to day before that. Dementia made her sweet one moment, angry the next. When I first met her, she pulled my hair.

Somewhere along the way, though, I became Evelyn, a woman who would always help her or hug her, bring her cocoa or a warm blanket, or find her glasses or a new book. She was always sweet to me when I was Evelyn. 

I asked the other aides if she called them Evelyn too. No, only me. She called Kim other K-names, like Kathy or Karen. Angela became Andrea or April. Gary was just the Handsome Asshole. 

For months, I answered to Evelyn, always happy to do so, always wondering why that particular name.

Then her husband died. When her family came to take her to his funeral, she grabbed my hand and said, "I want you to meet my boys!" To her sons, she said, "This is Evelyn!" They peered at my nametag quizzically. I explained I also answered to the name on my tag.

Sibyl clung to my hand, beaming. "She reminds me so much of my sister! Her name was Evelyn too!"

It was one of the sweetest moments at that job. I have a sister, and I'd like to think that when I am old and my memory is fading, I'll know her still, even in other faces. 

Dementia is a trickster. Its spell of confusion brought her the comfort of her sister, true. 

But last week . . . last week dementia was cruel. Last week, she asked who I was. "Evelyn," I said. She shrugged. It was just a name. 


  1. You write beautifully and you have a good heart. You also are sensitive to people who are vulnerable and facing their own deaths. These are a great combination of attributes for anyone working in medicine / medical care / health care.

    Please run, don't walk, to read "When Breath Becomes Air" by (Dr.) Paul Kalanithi. I don't want to spoil it for you by saying anything more this book lucidly discusses both the question of death and the process of becoming a physician. (Some of his observations about professional education also apply to other health professionals.)

    I hope to return to your blog in the future. (Am being tentative only b/c my time is limited due to my own caregiving responsibilities.)

    P.S. I'm the commenter "Jean" on AAM.

    1. I keep meaning to thank you for your comment, because I did read it right away and it made me happy to see someone from AAM with wonderful recommendations! I'll let you know what I think of that book. Thank you!