Lessons From a Dilly Bar®

Who remembers hot summer nights after baseball games and stopping at the infamous Dairy Queen for a Dilly Bar? Still one of my all-time favorites, especially if I can find a little place that still hand dips their own. My mother also had a special affinity for a butterscotch Dilly Bar. Always conscious of what she put in her body, she would occasionally indulge in one of these tantalizing treats on a stick.

A year or two after my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, her grandson and his wife returned from a year of teaching on a military base in the South Pacific. Most of the family was around that weekend to welcome them home. The evening before the big celebration, a couple of my sisters had brought a box or two of Dilly Bars (something mom obviously liked) to my parent’s home. So after dinner, out came the delicious confections and everyone anticipated the good time (and taste) to come. All started out wonderfully, but as it goes with Alzheimer’s patients, mom was beginning to take a longer time to eat most items and this was no exception. As luck would have it, she had on a clean pair of white jeans and as the bar began to melt and break apart, it fell onto her lap.

At that time, my dad was already doing the laundry and he was disappointed that her clean white jeans were now soiled. They tried to clean her up the best the could, but mom knew that she had disappointed him. A short time later when it was time to turn in for the night my dad recalled that she was tearful and said, “Why can’t I ever do anything right.” Oh my heart…. She was assured that she didn’t do anything wrong and that the pants would wash and be fine.

When dad shared this the following day with my sisters everyone felt so sad. No intention had ever been made to make her feel bad or ‘less than’ because her Dilly Bar melted and soiled her pants. But nonetheless, that is exactly what happened. But the next day, mom seemed to have no recall of the events the previous evening. (If there is a blessing in this disease, that may be it!)

That evening, the Dilly Bars came out again. Now, before you all let out a collective gasp, understand that while mom could not readily learn new information or begin to eat her Dilly Bar faster, those of us without a neurocognitive disease could learn new ways of doing things. So that night a bowl was served with each Dilly Bar and everyone ate their bar while holding a bowl under it; mom included. Yes, the bar melted and broke apart again. But this time, she finished it with a spoon right out of the bowl.

That night when getting into bed, she said to my dad, “That was the best day ever.” Wow… Isn’t that something? Something so simple to implement was able to help her end the day with a smile on her face and joy in her heart instead of feelings of being ‘less than’. 

I love the story of the Dilly Bar. It’s a beautiful example of how we as caregivers and loved ones can learn to adapt and make the experiences with our person more impactful and filled with moments of joy. Did we always get it right? Absolutely not! Did we fail again? Yes we did! But did we learn and try to do better? Most certainly.

Trial and error is a big teacher in this disease, but many other resources also exist to help you get ideas. Need more information? Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better,
do better.”
~Maya Angelou

Blessings for the journey,

~Beth