I recently got a new job working in supported living group homes with MR/DD patients. I truly do love the job - I feel like I am really helping someone when I go to work.

However happy I am with my job, nothing changes the fact that this is the hardest work I have ever done. Not physically - the physical aspects of the job are basically limited to the sorts of cleaning and repair I would do at home. No, the hard part is mostly emotional.

Of the people I work with, the hardest one to deal with is probably Marsha, the 62 year old woman who is in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease.

When I first went to work at that house, Marsha did not really trust me - then again, she had never seen me before. After only a few visits to the house, Marsha decided she liked me. For a woman whom I've only heard say "No!" "Yeah, yeah" and "Oh, boy", her method of communication is usually tactile. Therefore, when Marsha wanted to tell me that she both liked and trusted me, she walked up to me, smiling, softly petted my arm, my neck, and my face. After that, I could feed her, give her the medications she needed, and put her to bed with very little problem. Even Marsha's cat, Sheba, began to stick to my ankles more often. (This cat doesn't normally even stay close to Marsha.)

There are often times I will come in to work and find shoes on the kitchen counter, couch pillows on Marsha's bed, the remote control placed in some odd place, etc. Marsha may have been failing mentally, but physically could still do quite a lot. That 'quite a lot' usually included putting anything she could in her room, under her bed.

Marsha hates getting her Depends changed, however. And, because she is an adult, changing her diaper is much harder than changing a baby's diaper. Normally Marsha kicks and pushes the person changing her away, much as a baby does - but with much more strength.

Within the last few days, Marsha has started to move more quickly downhill. She became very unsteady on her feet, falling backward as soon as I stood her up from the bed, chair, etc. She stopped 'hording' things in her room, stopped getting up altogether unless she is physically made to do so. Today at work, it became very apparent just how far the Alzheimer's has progressed. Marsha complained loudly about getting her diaper changed, but she did not fight at all. She has slept as much as we have been able to allow her to for 3 days now - this woman was normally awake at 3am every morning. And, Sheba stays very close by Marsha now. Sleeping in her bed and staying near her all day long.

The other staff member who was working with me today has known Marsha for some 10+ years. Today, while we were changing Marsha and she wasn't fighting us, the other staff member shook her head sadly and whispered, "The good Lord is going to ask her home soon." This staff member knew Marsha when she still cooked, did latch-work, colored, went shopping on her own, did her own laundry, used the bathroom independantly, etc. Consequently, the staff member as watched the entire downhill progression of the Alzheimer's, whereas I have only been working with Marsha for a short time.

Yet, it is I who want to cry when I think of how much this wonderfully sweet and sensitive woman has lost to the merciless march of time. It was I who felt righteous anger when told that Marsha's sister had come to pick her up one day and the brought her back the next, saying that she would never return to see Marsha again.

That doesn't make me mad any longer, as I understand now how hard it is to watch someone lose everything that is ever was or is a part of his/her personality. Now, it just makes me sad. The woman has so little left of herself, all she wants now is to not be left alone. She has been deserted by most of her own mind and bodily control, she is grasping at the last thing she has left: human companionship, even if she doesn't know or remember just who that companion is. It doesn't matter, as long as the person loves her, or at least cares about her.