Amy always viewed herself as a good person. She loved her family and the dementia patients she nursed at the memory care facility where she worked. But her view of herself changed when one of her patients was brutally raped. She became obsessed with finding the rapist and getting revenge, even through violence. But the rapist found her. That was when the second Amy emerged.
Amy was the night shift supervisor of the memory care unit for dementia patients at Shady Oaks Senior Community. Now this was a job that most people would not like, and some might even detest because of the setting, the patients, and the hours. Who would want to work in a nursing home which is essentially a small institution for terminally ill patients along with caregivers who range from truly caring, even loving, to caregivers who are indifferent and occasionally even hateful to their patients? Amy chose to work in such a setting. Who would want to work with senile, needy people who mostly take from their caregivers and rarely give anything in return? Amy chose to work with such people. Who would want to work from 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM when most people are safely tucked away in their warm beds? Amy chose to work the night shift.
It might appear strange that Amy felt privileged to work at Shady Oaks. This was the last stop for her patients so she wanted to make it as much like a comforting home as possible. She loved her dementia patients: her “people” as she called them, as if they were her extended family. Some find dementia patients unpleasant, repulsive, and frightening. Maybe because they feel that “there but for the grace of God go I.”
And there was something about working from 11 PM to 7 AM that appealed to Amy. The atmosphere was different – it was subdued, sometimes even calm without the constant bustle of the staff and visitors during the day shift. Amy found that there was a mystical spirituality at night. It was when she asked herself the why questions she’d been asking for a long time. Why are some people struck down with dementia ending their lives with sadness and hopelessness? Why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why? Why? Although questions abounded, answers did not.
Ironically, working the night shift enabled Amy to spend more time with her family at home. Amy’s home was totally different than Shady Oaks. It was a “real” home with grandparents, a parent, and a grandchild, all of whom loved each other dearly. Working the night shift enabled Amy to sleep while her husband, Keith, and her daughter, Teri, were at work, and her granddaughter, Tammy, was at school.
Amy slept until 3:30 PM when Tammy got home from school. Then she and Tammy played, shopped, or just spent quality time together. Promptly at 6:30 every night, the family sat down to a home cooked dinner to nourish their bodies with food and their souls with love. Their family life was like a 1950’s TV sitcom. Everyone was loving and unselfishly caring.
But best of all was the time when Amy put Tammy to sleep. She got into bed with her and sang songs, told stories, and painted a bright picture of Tammy’s future. Someday Tammy would realize her dream to become a kindergarten teacher; marry a handsome, kind man; have twins, a boy and a girl; and have a yellow and a black Labrador Retriever, something she couldn’t have now because of Teri’s allergy to dogs.
Amy often wondered why she loved her granddaughter so intensely. She knew all grandparents loved their grandkids, but Amy’s love for Tammy was all-encompassing. She knew that, without hesitation, she would give her life for Tammy. Was her love for Tammy so intense because they looked so much alike? When Amy looked at pictures of herself at Tammy’s age, she was amazed at the similarity between them. Did she see herself reflected in Tammy? Did she hope that this version of herself would achieve her life goals in a way that Amy hadn’t been able to? Would this give Amy a sense of vicarious fulfillment?
Many people thought that Tammy was Amy’s daughter because of their resemblance. At 42, Amy could certainly have a six-year-old. They both had blond curly hair, and were plump, not fat, but pleasingly plump. Their bodies looked like nudes painted by Renaissance artists. They had a kind of plumpness that made you want to snuggle close to them for warmth and comfort. Their faces were round, and their pink cheeks asked to be pinched by well-meaning, but politically incorrect people commenting on how cute they were. Their twinkling blue eyes reflected a keen interest in everything and everyone around them.
They also had similar personalities. They were innately happy and wore perennial hints of smiles. The corners of their mouths naturally turned upward. And they were truly kind, never intentionally saying a mean word to or about anyone. They rarely missed an opportunity to compliment someone whenever it was merited, and even when it wasn’t if it served a good purpose, like boosting an insecure person’s self-esteem.
Even at six, Tammy showed empathy for the less fortunate, just as her grandmother did. Tammy often volunteered to help the two special education students mainstreamed in her class when they had difficulty with a task. She would explain how to perform a task when they didn’t understand the teacher’s directions, or she would help them when a task was too difficult for them to perform independently. Although there was a classroom aide to help these children, they preferred getting help from Tammy. She was a supportive peer who made them feel that they could succeed like everyone else in the class.
Amy focused on the beauty around her. She always stopped to appreciate a vivid sunrise or sunset so she could marvel at the day to come or the day that had been. When she found a perfectly formed rose in her garden, she inhaled its essence. She rarely picked her flowers because she wanted them to thrive in their natural habitat.
She believed that everyone, including herself, could make the world a better place, if only an inch at a time. Was she an idealist, who with other like-minded people could improve the world someday? Or was she a Pollyanna filled with unreasonable and blind optimism? The answer depends upon the worldview of the questioner.
But Amy had one big difference from Tammy – her laugh. Amy had a booming, mirthful laugh that was infectious making most people around her, even dour people, laugh, but more quietly, or at least crack a smile. However, there were always some grinches who were bothered by her laughter and its intrusion into their dismal worlds. Her laugh reflected her inner happiness. She saw pain and suffering throughout her workday, but she didn’t let that depress her. She viewed them as unavoidable aspects of the life cycle that had to be faced bravely. They had to be counterbalanced by focusing on the good and beautiful even when, at times, these were elusive.