This post is Grassroots, meaning a reader posted it directly. If you see an issue with it, contact an editor.
If you’d like to post a Grassroots post, click here!

May 9, 2019

“I’ll have the chicken chest, please.” – Seven Alzheimer’s Blessings


“I’ll have the chicken chest, please.” – Seven Alzheimer’s Blessings

A year ago, one week before Mother’s Day, I met my friend Tessa and her 90-year-old mother Trixie for dinner at the seniors’ home where Trixie lives.  Trixie began to exhibit Alzheimer’s symptoms eight years ago and now her short-term memory is pretty well gone.   But her fun-loving personality and sharp wit remain, and that’s why she’s such a joy to visit.

Placing her order with the dining room server, Trixie said:

“I’ll have the chicken chest, please.”

“Mom, you mean chicken breast,” corrected Tessa.

Trixie promptly responded:

“Where I come from, chickens don’t have nipples.”

“That’s true,” I said, “They don’t – not where I come from, either.”

“Don’t encourage her,” said Tessa.

Warming to her theme, Trixie continued:

“Where I come from, chickens don’t wear brassieres.”

“No, they don’t,” I agreed, “I’ve never met a chicken in a bra.”

“Stop it, Heather,” said Tessa.

“I’ve never seen a chicken nursing her chicks from anything that looked like a breast.  And have you ever seen a chicken posing topless in a girlie magazine?  I haven’t,” continued Trixie.

“Chickens don’t pole-dance or strip-tease or wear pasties,” I noted.

“That’s right. They definitely don’t.   I’ll have the chicken chest, please,” said Trixie, firmly.

The server, somewhat bemused, wrote down her order as directed.  I ordered the chicken chest, too.

Trixie enlightened me with her insightful observations.    Her words clarified that our food culture has sexualized a menu item to make it more appetizing:  somehow, eating a breast (devouring part of a female) is thought to be more appealing than the prospect of eating part of a male.  So, restaurant menus refer to “chicken breast” rather than “chicken chest”.  With Alzheimer’s clarity and focus, Trixie taught me a lot when she placed her order for chicken, and from now on, I intend to follow her example.

I’ve had experience with Alzheimer’s disease.  There were some years of caregiving for my mother, who died from heart disease but who also exhibited serious dementia symptoms in the three years before her death.   Currently, I have elderly friends, including Trixie, who are living with Alzheimer’s.  Truly, I understand the heartbreak and emotional devastation associated with the illness. So, in no way do I want the following observations to diminish that reality.

I do want to relate that in addition to emotional pain and stress, I have also felt special blessings associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  These I share with you now – seven ways in which Alzheimer’s has been a blessing to me:

  1. As Trixie’s determination to order “chicken chest” illustrates, when good humour and personality remain intact, Alzheimer’s can enable a person to perceive and voice accurate observations about our world that other people, supposedly “clear-minded”, fail to notice. Such an ability to hone in and focus on fundamental truths can lead us to change our conduct to better reflect our basic values.  Like Trixie, I now order “the chicken chest” in a restaurant, refusing to arbitrarily “feminize” a menu item.  At the same time, I have some fun in the process of making a point!  I have learned from Trixie’s wisdom, and thank her for it.   What a blessing, to view the world through the fresh lens of a person with Alzheimer’s.


  1. The mind is often a mechanism for healing, and Alzheimer’s can be a way for a person to reconcile a painful reality by viewing it in another light. When first moved from her family home into the seniors’ residence, Trixie’s mind transformed her new living environment into a luxury all-inclusive resort hotel.  She believed she was on holiday in her new home environment – this helped her transition into strange surroundings with a mind open to different experiences.  What could have been a difficult and traumatic change was transformed by Alzheimer’s into an exciting adventure.

Similarly, my elderly aunt June viewed her assisted-living facility as a cruise ship, with her room being          “her cabin” and the daily meals, at set times, being “second seating” on the cruise ship.  She perceived            entertainers and recreation activities at the facility as part of cruise ship recreation schedule.  In this              way, Alzheimer’s blessed my aunt with the fun of a perpetual holiday.


3.   Alzheimer’s can lead one to appreciate the marvels of our world that we usually don’t even notice.             During a recent visit to my home, my 85-years-young friend Shelby came up to me, holding her cell         phone charger, and she asked me what it was.  She looked at it with wonder and respect when I told her     that when plugged into a wall electric socket, the device would bring power to her cell phone, enabling it to function so she could phone and speak to other people.   Shelby laughed in delight and said, “But that’s amazing!   That’s just amazing!  How wonderful!”   She’s right, isn’t she?  Why do we take so much for granted?  Alzheimer’s blessed us both in that instant with an appreciation and respect for the wonders of electricity.


  1. Alzheimer’s gives the double-blessing of reciprocity to those who receive care and to those who give it. The vulnerability that comes with Alzheimer’s means that people who lovingly cared for their children are now able to accept help from those who were once the vulnerable children cared for years ago.  Caring for persons with Alzheimer’s disease has taught me patience and how to be a more empathetic human being.    I have found it a privilege and honour to care for people who need me, who were there for me at a time when I needed their help and care.    I remember the joyous times we had together when I was younger, and try to replicate happy experiences for them now that they are older and the ones who seek assistance.  I am thankful that I have an opportunity to show them my love and respect as they bravely meet the challenges that arise from Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, in that, I am blessed.  So too, are they.


  1. Alzheimer’s disease has blessed me with a lesson in humility. I have learned that my accomplishments are not truly my own, but rather, temporary gifts loaned to me in this life.  They can and will be taken away from me one day by life’s vagaries and caprices.   Possessions, titles, awards – all are vanity, vanity.  My friends with Alzheimer’s couldn’t care less about the wealth, job title or possessions of another person.   What matters to them is the quality of the relationships they have with others.  I am thankful to be constantly reminded of this when I speak with them.  It is a blessing to be reminded to be humble.  And to feel beloved by family and friends.


  1. It can be a blessing to be free of the need to always comply with social rules of etiquette and politesse.

At that same dinner visit one year ago, I asked Trixie if I could “borrow” her for Mother’s Day, because          my mother was no longer alive.  I asked Trixie if she would mind being my mother for just one day,                when I celebrated Mother’s Day with her and Tessa the next week.   Trixie considered the matter                      thoughtfully, and then answered:

“You are a very nice person but I don’t want to be anyone else’s mother.  I’m getting old and I don’t        want to be a mother again.   It’s a lot of work.  I raised four children:  Tommy, Ricky, Jacob (oh, he was a     rascal!) and then Tessa.  That’s enough for me.  I hope you understand.  I’m just too tired to be your mother, too.”

I did understand.  A parent myself, I share Trixie’s sentiments that motherhood is wonderful – but also a lot of work and tiring.  Alzheimer’s disease gifted Trixie with the ability to say exactly what she thought and what she pleased.  Sometimes it is a blessing to be free from social obligations to be polite – I appreciated Trixie’s honest perception, which I share, that motherhood is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

  1. It is a blessing to know that one can usually depend on the kindness of strangers.  (Tennessee Williams was spot-on in “A Streetcar Named Desire”).   I have been moved, many times, by the kindness of strangers who have noticed me struggling to assist an elderly friend or relative in various public predicaments where Alzheimer’s has made communication and comprehension difficult.  Understanding smiles, kind glances, and offers of assistance have lifted my spirits with practical, spontaneous support.

One recent example was when I helped my friend Shelby to fly home from the local harbour plane             airport terminal.   The airline has a policy of flying a companion free to accompany a passenger with     cognitive difficulties.  When we arrived at the terminal, I was unaware of that corporate policy.  But at the   check-in desk, when I told a staff member that Shelby had Alzheimer’s disease and asked if anyone could   escort her down the gangplank and help seat her on the floatplane, the response was prompt, warm and   friendly.  An airline manager immediately appeared and informed me of the company policy to assist   persons with cognitive disabilities.  Then a caring young clerk offered Shelby his arm and tenderly escorted   her to the floatplane where she was accompanied for the rest of her journey until she met her husband   waiting at the destination terminal.  My friend had her “Blanche DuBois” moment.  And I received the   blessing of a reminder that one reason this great globe known as Earth keeps turning is because there are   so many very kind and good people who live on it.


My conclusion is that Alzheimer’s disease has given me great blessings to accompany its great challenges.

And now may I suggest to all of you reading this:  next time you order chicken in a restaurant, remember      my friend Trixie’s example and say:

“I’ll have the chicken chest, please.”



Heather Kulyk McDonald

Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

May 8, 2019




Read 4 Comments and Reply

Read 4 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Heather Kulyk  |  Contribution: 575