Witnessing the slow and jagged cognitive decline of a loved one is among life’s greatest challenges. Encounters that were once so smooth and carefree are fraught with anxiety, frustration, and uncertainty, sometimes with sporadic moments of levity and ease. For caretakers, there’s often the drip, drip, drip of compassion-filled, yet relentless and often taxing caregiving, perhaps accompanied by the glow of memories of what once was. This is the poignant mix that some of us have come to know, a mix that a wise 13-year-old Maude Smith-Montross truly grasps.  

Maude Smith-Montross is a student at the Gordon School in East Providence.

She doesn’t recognize him anymore. The face she fell in love with, who washed the dishes every night, who helped her raise their children, he means nothing to her anymore.

Her card collection sits unsent. She doesn’t remember when holidays fall, and when someone reminds her of moments that once meant the most she can’t take pen to paper, and when she does the shape of the letters is lost to her.

But, when my brother and I run in her brain kicks back into gear and the Alzheimer's hides away. The stories from her childhood we’ve already heard still bring looks of astonishment to our faces. We tell her about our life and she listens carefully, you would never think that in 10 minutes she won’t remember we were here. We laugh and as we leave she reminds us, “Stay safe.”

      As nurses guide her to play bingo, I think that although she has Alzheimer's she is able to smile because of her family and the wonderful staff where the doors are locked and the “Neighborhood”, as they call it, is filled with activities.

      We walk out the door and back to my Granddad’s house. Signs of loneliness show in the limited food and papers strewn over the second bed. Why does he not live in a warm and comfortable nursing home as well?

      They don’t have the money.

      They have money for one. One small room where kind nurses check-in daily. One seat at the table where three hot meals are served a day and dessert always follows. So they are seperated, because my grandmother needs the care more. Because he can’t provide it any longer.

      My grandfather continues to walk everyday to visit for a meal then leaves after a quick kiss. He continues to head back home and some days forgets to eat or forgets to wash the sink.

We continue to visit everyday, leaving as he tires. I wish when we left he were whisked into the loving nursing home environment and served a sundae on Sunday.

I believe everyone should get to play bingo.

I believe the price to flip the paper chips and yell “Bingo” should be one we all can pay. I believe couples should not be split because one needs care more. I believe love should be fostered until arms are too tired to hug, and feet too tired to dance.