Strolling through the halls at work today, I was stopped by a resident. This is a normal, everyday occurrence for anyone walking through the facility. Most what time of day it is; where their spouse is or tell me that they want to go home. Today was different.
” Excuse me Miss”, Clara said as I passed by. I stopped and knelt beside her wheelchair, listening closely to her soft-spoken voice.
” Do you know what the, ummm, the secret of life is?” she asked. Unsure of what she meant, I leaned in closer so she could hear me .
” What do mean Ms. Clara? The secret to what?” I always try to clarify what the resident says, and weigh it against what he/she may mean. Often times dementia patients know what they mean, but have trouble conveying the message. Continual questions and prompts may lead to finding the root question.
” Did you have a good breakfast? Did you enjoy the food?” Since she had just wheeled herself from the dining room, maybe she was inquiring a bout the secret recipe in the buttered biscuits.
” No dear, you didn’t hear me. I said, what is the secret to happiness?” Oh boy. She’s changing the words on me, but still consistent with her thought.
” Well, Ms. Clara, the secret to life is a deep thought for such an early morning. I may have to think about it and answer you later, Will that be okay?
” Young lady, listen to me. The secret to life is happiness. The secret to happiness is life. Happiness is the secret to life.” She patted my hand as she continued. ” People your age do not know what happiness is. You think it is a car or a house or a big job in the factory. Happiness is not found in material things. You can only understand happiness when you know happiness.””
Hmmm, you know I have more education than I know what to do with. I have spoken before large and small groups of people without a hesitation or a stutter. Rarely if ever, have I been at a loss for words. How exactly does one reply to such profound wisdom? This 94 year old woman who has Alzheimer’s , normally spends her days wheeling through the facility looking for her home in Wheeling ,West Virginia…..not discussing the meaning of life, nor the secret to happiness……
I leaned in and gave Clara a hug and thanked her for sharing her wisdom with me. I did not expect her next remark.
” Young lady, I am not sharing my wisdom with you. Wisdom comes from your own experiences. Go find your own way,make your own mistakes, learn from them and then you will have you own wisdom, but you can’t have my wisdom.
With that said, Clara wheeled herself down the hall, out of my line of sight. I stood there in the hall, perplexed, confused but deeply enlightened. She is right ,you know. Everything she said was point on and profound truth………
As I carried myself through the day today, Clara’s thoughts have not left me……..You can only understand happiness when you know happiness………….Go find your own way,make your own mistakes, learn from them and then you will have you own wisdom, but you can’t have my wisdom.
Today, I think I learned the secret to life.