We first noticed this phenomenon with Dad. During the final stages of his dementia, dusk triggered an inward call. He rose from his chair and began pacing up and down the living room, going nowhere yet constantly moving.
His eyes shone with an almost maniacal light, as if he obeyed a substance or a creature we could not see. By that time, he no longer spoke, so we couldn’t ask him what he was looking for or where he wanted to go. It became his nightly ritual until he could no longer walk.
I fully expected him to pass away during the dusky hours, when the Oklahoma sun begins its descent into the horizon. But no, he graduated to heaven in the middle of a spring day – simply by ceasing to breathe and walking away with Jesus.
Years ago, when my mother worked as a nurse in the hospital, she told me how important it was to work the night shift and watch out for her patients. “If they’re going to die,” she said, “they’ll die at night.”
Something about the night conjures up the dark fear of death – all those spooky movies with a full moon shadowing gargantuan monsters. I find that strange, because I love sunsets and when I finally lay me down to sleep, I say, “Ah! Yes!”
But then, the scenario is different when Alzheimer’s and/or dementia capture the brain.
We have noticed the sundown change in Mom as well. She eats supper early, around 4:30 at the assisted living facility. Perhaps they schedule it early for a purpose, because they know what is coming for many of their residents. Shortly after supper, Mom moves into her most confused state of the day.
We know better than to visit her in the evening, because she will be concerned about the farm and what is happening there, even though she hasn’t lived in the country for many years. In the evenings, she will forget Dad has passed. She will talk about him as if he is coming into the room and she must prepare his clothes for the next day.
At dusk, Mom will argue about nonsensical things – what day it is, what year it is, whether we have already celebrated Christmas and whose name she drew and what present she bought. It doesn’t matter what we say or how we try to explain, the shutters of understanding have closed for the day. She is lost within the sunset hours.
An old hymn reminds me of the timelessness of heaven and how we will someday no longer fear any type of sundowner symptoms.
“Beyond the sunset, oh blissful morning
When with our savior, heaven is begun.
Earth’s toiling ended, oh glorious dawning
Beyond the sunset, when day is done.”
You can listen to the entire hymn here: Beyond the Sunset
I guess there’s a good reason hope bleeds at sundown. Maybe that’s the time believers are most restless for heaven, searching for the Savior and for their loved ones who graduated before them.
Next time I see Mom at dusk, I’ll take her hand to calm her down and say, “It’s okay, Mom. Only a few more sunsets until your journey is over. Be still. The best is yet to be.”
©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh
Thank you for sharing this part of your life–very touching. It’s also helpful for all of us to understand this aspect of dementia/Alzheimer’s. Thank you again.
It’s an interesting phenomenon and so many residents struggle with it. Thanks for stopping by.
Yesterday I wrote a scene set in a nursing home, with two sisters who don’t track very well anymore. I enjoyed the writing–It’s a setting I know well, since I worked as a nurse’s aide during college. But your thoughts on Sundowner’s reminds me of the darker side to ‘not tracking anymore.’ Blessings to you, and to your mother.
Thanks, Jane. I’m glad you have some experiential research to draw on – so helpful for us writers.
it seems relationships in all settings need rhythms. Of nearness and distance. Thank you for effectively bringing this to mind in this context. And yes, the best is yet to be.
True. The difficulty of Alzheimer’s is that the normal rhythms are skewed and we have to find ways to deal with the new ones. Hope for eternity is the one thing that keeps us sane.