For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2
A short, but semi-funny story for your consideration as we enter a long holiday weekend (No article on Monday). I was driving to Planet Fitness then to work yesterday at 4:30am, as I am wont to do, when, off in the distance about 30 yards I could see a man with what looked like a refrigerator box-sized, irregularly-shaped sign walking on the median ahead. While this wouldn’t normally concern me in Springfield, where sign-holding panhandlers are almost as thick as Now Hiring signs, this one caught my attention because of the time and because of what I discovered as I neared him at the stop light. He actually wasn’t holding a sign…he was pushing a small refrigerator (4-5′ tall?) and strapped to the side of said chill chest was a box fan that was positioned almost to look like a propeller. As I neared I rubbed my eyes, I took a sip of my morning elixir (Diet Dr. Thunder because who can afford the full-priced Pepper?) and questioned what I was seeing. I mean, it was raining…maybe it was the water droplets playing tricks on my eyes? After this quick face physical I decided this it was, indeed, what I was seeing. Inquisitively and not fearing for my life, I circled the block to make sure one last time and to consider what I should do. Sure enough, said homeless(?) man had crossed the 6 lanes plus turn lanes and was pushing along the shoulder on his merry way, in the rain. I wondered out loud the following questions:
- Do I call the police? Maybe he stole it?
- Should I hop out and help? I am driving a 1994 Tempo…tain’t gonna fit in her….but I could help push or call a Uber truck?!?!
- What was the fan like that?
- If I stop, might he shank me and filet me right there and put my fileted shanks in said fridge? There were no cars as far as the eye could see…
- Or maybe I will just go work out and work on a dementia tie-in. (Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding…we have a winner!)
10 Things You Can Learn From My Odd Little Story Here, Some of Which Are Shoehorned in to Talk About Dementia
- One step at a time– Whether you are pushing a fan-propelled fridge or pushing a leg into the bottoms of your loved one, you do so one step at a time. Tasks are hard. Don’t dwell on the many tasks ahead…just keep it simple and move step-by-step. There are no shortcuts…
- Help is proportional to size and timing– The man’s fan was missing a few things to be truly helpful. IT needed power and propellers the size of a windfarm turbine to move him as he was apparently shooting for. However, despite the weakness in planning, the fan would indeed keep him cool when he arrived at his destination, provided it was powered….so it helped. Sometimes the act of finding something a willing volunteer can do to help you in caregiving may seem like it is harder than the effort it saves, but remember…they may be more useful as things unfold…receive help graciously and love on them.
- Not everything is as it seems– I really thought the dude had a panhandling sign…I truly did. That was what I was used to, even if not at 4:30am. Then I was caught off-guard by the reality. Don’t get the cart ahead of the horse if you start seeing warning signs and assume you or a loved one have the disease…talk to your doc, and do so toot sweet. There are many things that mimic dementia…I have written extensively about such…ask the pros.
- Be careful on judgement– Today’s verse (see above) was the most popular Bible verse of today and one that is used as a club over the head of people who like the Bible but don’t read it… Matthew Chapter 7 talks over and over about how we judge…right judging. The Bible talks a significant amount about it. We do so carefully, and with fear and trembling, but we make judgements on what is concrete in front of our eyes all the time. We cannot judge the inner intention of the heart of anyone, even ourselves because our own hearts deceive us…but we do judge because we are taught to and how to. I should have got out and helped the poor fella. I was more concerned about me, my dryness, my lack of a shank to the gullet, and my family than I was about him. At the least I should have called the police to see if they had someone who could help. Character failure. Days of perfection streak still at zero. When helping someone with dementia, PLEASE remember this mantra: it isn’t them that did that (whatever bad/gross/offensive thing “that” is)..it is the disease. I have known folks with dementia who lived a wonderful Christian life and suddenly turn into a potty-mouth, booty pincher when their brain broke. Be careful…but be gracious in judgement.
- The journey is hard– Even though the dude’s fridge had castors, it was surely hard. The road was rough. The grooves in the street were real. The unhelpful motorists driving by (twice) but not helping are frustrating. Remember, though, that the prize at the end will at least buffer the hardship. You will soon have the ice box filled with Chick-Fil-A leftovers and the box fan aimed at you as you reflect on the fact that you did your best in taking care of your loved one. There is a freeing clean conscience knowing you gave it your all…and finished strong.
- Perspective matters– I did leave out that the fridge pusher was “on a little somethin’ somethin'” . It was pretty obvious. This is a family show, so I won’t go deeper in ways you could tell, but I felt safe that it wasn’t mental illness that was causing the motions he was offering….it was likely meth. Maybe the fan was a propeller and he was trying to fly the fridge bomber? I don’t know… Keeping the right perspective in caregiving is also super important. I really feel like if you can focus on what is left instead of what is missing, you can enjoy the time you have better than Sherlocking around looking for clues on what he/she can’t remember today. You are likely in for a marathon of fridge-pushing, not a sprint. Enjoy the time you have and reflect on what was lost after your loved one has passed away.
- No two stories are the same– I hope I have not come across here as anti-homeless or unloving….and I likely have. Let me please correct this right here…I am extremely burdened for truly homeless folks who are in that situation for hard reasons. I expect that the vast majority fall in this camp…and I hate it for them. I sometimes get frustrated by social programs that seem to perpetuate the problem more than helping fix it, but I do care…I extremely much so care for these folks. I want them to have fulfilling, safe, and happy lives and I want them to join with me in heaven as fellow unworthy benefactors of grace. I should have done something, drugs or not…and I felt bad all day even as I told the story a few times. So much hardship in the world…self-inflicted hardship make you want to lovingly shake folks and say “Come on…don’t ZDO THAT…Do THIS INSTEAD!!!”. But I was more part of the problem than the solution in my little story. This commercial explains a better mindset quite effectively. Remember also that no two stories in dementia are the same either. There are trends and common elements, but every case is different and unique and should be treated as such. Listen much more, give advice a tab bit less and peppered liberally with grace.
- There are always ways you can help– I could have pushed. I could have called someone. I could have gave him my umbrella. I did nothing instead… Fail. There are always ways to help others in the realm of dementia. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for countless ways. Find your local Area Agency on Aging and call them and see if they have any volunteer opportunities…and I know they will. Do something…anything…don’t just drive by. Do as I plead, not as I did.
- There is joy to be found in work– The stoned dude was laughing and hootin’/hollerin’ in the rain. We should do our best to have that attitude in spite of the challenges we face. It will show on our face and it will make us better caregivers.
- You will get there eventually– Either the man made it or was picked up and hauled away… I drove by later and there were no fridges nor fans as far as the eye could see. I hope and pray for victory for the man…victory over addiction and poor choices….and I pray for me to have a more Christ-like attitude for folks in his situation. I am an imperfect person whose only good traits are the Christ part in me. When I do something worthwhile, it is Him who deserves the kudos. This road with mom has taken a lot out of me. Part of what I run for is to keep my mind off of my current situation. It is freeing and liberating to have a relaxed mind while I run…and I abuse this privilege sometimes. But I do know that this whole situation will soon be over. Mom’s hospice nurse fought her way past the Shawshankdom lockdown and was allowed to visit to get vitals and see how she is doing…and she isn’t well. She is largely unresponsive most of the time. She is still eating and taking meds, but for how much longer who can say…and it is hard. I hate it for her. I hate dementia for you. I hate drug/alcohol-induced dementia that the fridge dude may face in liver disease or the elements don’t kill him first. These are tough times to cope through, with our without a fridge plane. But we keep fighting and doing our best knowing that eventually we will return to a forever-changed normal. Keep fighting, friend. Know you are loved here and by your loved one and extend grace when we fail.
I hope you have a great holiday weekend. I will pause to reflect on the many great July 4ths I had growing up. I will reminisce about bottle rocket fights, about throwing creek rocks at my family (sorry mom, in particular, but all of you), about BBQs and sports and hugs and tears and the rest. It is a great time of the year. 🙂
Final tip- Loud (fireworks) and explosions of light may cause your loved one to react poorly. Be careful and gentle in your exposure based on what you already know. 🙂