What is “Freeze Framing” the ill and elderly in our minds

Freeze Framing the ill and elderly in our minds

By Lori La Bey of Senior LifestyleTrends

This past week I’ve been up at our family cabin relaxing and working on some projects for my speaking business.  While up here I went to visit Alan, a dear family friend of forty years.  He is now living in a nursing home in Aitkin, Minnesota.  I believe my story about my visit with Alan is an important one about aging and illness; and hopefully one you will relate to.

As I entered Aitkin Health Services, I was immediately impressed with the community.  Friendly staff, an activity room filled with engaged people; clean bright, and beautiful.  As I maneuved my way to Alan’s room I found myself approaching a large garden area.  This was the central area for his community.  I felt like I was outdoors and almost double checked, but I knew I had not left the building.  Several doors were spread around the perimeter of the garden space, each a door leading to a resident’s room.

As I approached the door to Alan’s room I noticed it actually led to two large rooms.  I peered in each.  I was sure the man in the room to the left was not Alan, but I wasn’t so sure the man in the room to the right was him either.  He looked different from what I remembered.

From the doorway the small pale man did not look like Alan but I decided to check as the name plate said it was his room.  As I walked in I announced myself and I realized I had “FREEZE FRAMED” Alan in time.  Freeze Framing is a term I use when speaking and training Caregivers.  Freeze Framing occurs when we take a snap shot of someone’s life and choice to remember them in a certain way, usually how they “used to be.”  Typically it is picture in our mind when we feel the person was active and vital.  Often, it is in great contrast from what is actually before us when someone is ill or dying.

In my mind, I had “Freeze Framed” Alan as an active man, quiet in nature, and short in stature.  He was an icon in his time.  Everyone knew Alan.  I remembered this farmer and resort owner with a deep golden tan, piercing blue eyes, and a gentle smile that melted my heart every time I saw him.  I remembered this man and his wife Marv sharing stories of their travels.  I remembered all of the pictures and mementos from their trips.

I remembered both Al and Marv in their peak – retired, full of zest; yet loving and compassionate.  They were tremendous friends of mine even though some may have thought it strange with our age difference.  I felt like they were part of my family and I was part of theirs.  Al and Marv never had children and it was too bad, as they would have made great parents.

As I walked closer, I saw a fragile man hooked up to oxygen, lying in bed curled up like a baby.  He was pale in color, with eyes closed, and he was lying peacefully.  What had happened to my strong helpful resourceful friend?  It was at that point I realized Alan had been like a Grandfather to me.  A grandpa I never had growing up.  Forty years of stories and hugs, love and laughter.

I pulled a chair up next to his bed and told him who I was, and then I leaned in for a hug and kiss.  Alan’s eyes slowly opened and I saw those gorgeous baby blues as he looked into my eyes.  He puckered up for our kiss just like old times.  I sat down and held his hand and we talked for over an hour. 

I was amazed and humbled how this fragile man came to life in my presence.  What a gift it was for me to spend time with this wonderful man who meant so much to me over the years.  What a gift it was to connect with an old friend on such a deep level as we chatted.   I gave him the rundown on everyone in my family and asked about his.

I told Alan all the things I remembered about him and his wife Marv.  I told him how special and loved he was not only by me but my family and others.  What a generous couple he and Marv were.  How much it meant to my parents when they sold the land where our cabin now sits, to them on a contract for deed as my folks couldn’t afford to buy it any other way.  I reminded him of the others he and Marv had helped over the years.  As I talked to Alan he laid in bed beaming with pride.  I can only imagine how nice it would be to have someone tell you how much they love you and valued you in their life.  It’s sad as a society we don’t share these things more often with the important people in our lives.

Alan then told me, “I always thought you were pretty special too.”  My heart melted once again with the love I hold for this man.  He told me he remembered meeting me for the first time when I was six.  I thought I was about ten or eleven, but he might be right.  Who knows and who cares.  I was so touched he remembered me and our special times together.  He told me he was 97 years old now and he had been pretty sick last month with the flu.  Alan told me he wasn’t sure how much longer he really had.  He told me had that “Old person’s disease.”  I asked if he meant Alzheimer’s and he said “Yes.” As he talked his eyes were filled with love and he was flashing that beautiful gentle smile at me.

Alan and I talked about Marv and their life together.  He informed me she passed.  I was aware of that.   Marv had died many years ago.  Prior to her passing I would stop in and visit her in the nursing home when I would run into town when I was at the lake. 

Marv reminded me of my Great Aunt Margie.  Marv was a home spun farmer’s wife.   She always had something freshly baked when I would swing by to visit. I told Alan how I remembered their spiral staircase and how I was so enchanted by it when I was a child.  I loved going up and down it.  I had never seen a spiral staircase before.  They would take me around the house and show me the different things they bought when they traveled and I couldn’t wait to hop on those steps.  I loved spending time with the two of them.

For a brief moment Alan and I sat in silence holding hands.  It was at this time I sensed Marv sitting in Alan’s recliner next to his bed and I told Alan I get these weird sensations sometimes.  I explained Marv was here with him, with us.  I asked Alan if his ear ever tickles.  He giggled and said “Yes.”  I told him that was Marv letting him know she was around.  He continued to giggle softly through his smiling lips and said, “I always wondered where she was.”  His eye sparkled with joy and brought a tear to my own eyes.

It was at that moment I felt a need to grab my purse and pull out one of my business cards that has “Your Memory Chip” on the inside of it.  I usually use these cards when working with Caregivers as it helps them focus on their loved one.  Today I found a new use for the card.  I was going to fill it out and give it Alan as a remembrance of our special time together today, of our precious connection over the years. So this is roughly what I wrote down.

I wrote down that I love him.  I wrote that I want him to be safe, happy, and pain-free.   I wrote all the things I always want to remember about him:  His crystal blue eyes, his golden tan, his soft gentle smile, his kindness and compassion.  I wanted to remember him driving his riding lawn mower or four wheeler as he did chores or just went around visiting people.  His hugs, his friendship, and love…

There is room on “Your Memory Chip” for a photo, but I didn’t have one of Alan with me so I decided to take a picture of him on my phone.  The first picture he was closed lipped, so I asked him to give me a big smile and to show those pearly whites.  He posed and I took the picture.  It made me giggle as his smile was forced, just like any other time over the years I tried to get him to give me a big smile.  I wish I had a picture of him as we were talking today: peaceful, quiet, happy with those blue eyes shining and his soft gentle smile that exuded love with a childish excitement. 

As I gave Alan my business card I explained the Memory Chip inside.  I read to him what I had written in it.  I told him I wanted him to give him something so he could remember our visit.  I watched him take the card and hold it so gently yet tightly not about to let it go either.  He had told me earlier his eyes weren’t so good any more but that didn’t stop him from looking at the card thoroughly.  He appeared to be trying to read each side and then opened it up to look over my writing inside and then did it all over again about three times.  He appeared pleased and it gave me great joy knowing he liked this little memento just between us.  This is the picture of Alan I now Freeze Frame in my mind.

I hope by sharing this story with you, that you too may take time to connect with your family and friends who are ill or aging.  Those people in your life who aren’t who and what they used to be and you have “Freeze Framed” them in order to be comfortable with the memory of them. 

Please know that caring for someone is not about your comfort but theirs.  Remember you can give them great joy by sharing your thoughts, your love, and your stories with them, but I can’t even begin to put into words what a gift you will receive back from them.  Try it for yourself and then write me back and tell me what your experience was like.  If you would like to get a copy of “Your Memory Chip,” go to www.AlzheimersSpeaks.com and click on the star burst that says Memory Chip.  We will send you a few different versions you can use.

7 Replies to “What is “Freeze Framing” the ill and elderly in our minds”

  1. I loved this post. I think it is your best one. Every time I go to CA and visit my dad, I freeze frame him again to where he is. My dad is not the person I remember growing up, but does anyone stay the same? I agree, that as we pass through different stages of our life, especially the latter stages, it is hard to accept the changes we see. But it is a a dis-service to who they were, to mourn their change, and not to accept and enjoy them as they have become.

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for writing.

      I think it is such an important aspect for people to understand. In my keynotes and training sessions I use a personal picture of myself with my parents. It’s a picture of the three of us on my wedding day. It’s a perfect example of how things change. Too often we try to make ourselves comfortable with dealing with the ill and aging. We feel we have the right to “Freeze Frame” them. Funny thing it just makes it so much more difficult on everyone. The expectations can’t be met by anyone when we do this.

      In using my wedding picture, I say my Dad is dead, my Mom has Alzheimer’s and is in her end stages, and I got divorced! Nothing stays the same and we have no right to try to force someone else to be who they can’t anymore for our own comfort. Freeze Framing doesn’t remove our fear it exculpates, if we are not realistic. Everyone gets it after that example. It is a simple concept and thing to change once we are conscience of doing it in the first place!

      Kudos to you for embracing the concept and adjusting to your Dad’s new state!

      Thanks again for following.


  2. What a beautiful story Lori. I like your concept of Freeze Framing. We all do it at one point or another in our lives, and not only with our elders. Everyone moves on, and what’s important is that someone who is elderly and who also has dementia is not “gone.” They haven’t left the premises; they are just a different person. Just as it’s not healthy to recognize that your children, your spouse or your friends are not the same people they were 20 years ago, you have to allow your elder loved ones to change too, even if you aren’t comfortable with or understand the new person they have become.

  3. HI Laura

    Thanks for writing. Your comments are so true. We we do freeze frame people in our lives all the time. It can make situations so difficult. In my opinion, we have to be be more aware of our interactions with others and understand why we do the things we do. Once we know the “whys” we can change our interaction.

    Thanks again for writing. Hope all is well with you and yours!


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