Confessions of a Caregiver, Vol. 3, When Opportunity Knocks

When service is selfless, it brings joy and peace. When it is rendered with attachment, it brings pain and suffering. If we experience suffering in service, we can examine the way we offered it. An exquisite path of awakening!—Ellen Grace O’Brian

There was a knock on the door, the entry from the open garage into the kitchen. It was an unfamiliar woman in her late 70s asking me to take her to town.

“I know you’re going there because your garage door is open,” she said, amongst other things that made no sense to me. A lesson in compassion, love and empathy had literally come knocking at my door.

Although I would soon be presented this same lesson a second time (amazingly so), I confess this first encounter with her was not my finest moment as a caregiver; I adamantly assured her that I was not going into town, and that she had to leave!

Closing the door, and returning to my dinner with Claire, I soon realized that this woman probably had dementia and therefore no idea where she lived. Fear and a lot of guilt seeped through my veins. I went out looking for her. She was gone, nowhere to be found. I had failed caring about others as much as I care about Claire and myself.

Over the next two weeks my thoughts returned again and again to my interaction with that surprise visitor, wishing I had not sent her away.

A few weeks later, the world presented me another chance to learn the same lesson. Claire and I were coming back from the neighborhood pool when we met a woman carrying a box of delicious looking mini cupcakes, an obvious conversation opener. During our small talk, she noticed me eyeing the artfully decorated sweets, drooling. (Come on, who wouldn’t be? Perfectly swirled sky blue frosting, sparkling sugar sprinkles, probably vanilla cake…) Offering us one, she told us she was just returning from a party for a man who had turned 100 years old that day. (Yes, 100! The homemade cupcake was amazing too, one of the best I’ve tasted to date.) Turns out, the party was being held at the driveway directly across the street from the Scottsdale condo we were renting for the winter. The cupcake lady encouraged us to stop by and wish him a happy birthday.

So with Claire in her power-chair, me strolling alongside her, we headed over. We were about to meet a man who had lived 100 years, his daughter who is the caregiver, and another special woman – his wife with dementia, the woman I had sent away unaided. A triple wow. A reminder from the Universe that there are no accidents! And my immediate relief that the woman was OK. She had made it home that day, which was apparently right across the street. My guilt started to subside, though not completely. But the Powers That Be had plans for assuaging that.

As I habitually left the overhead garage door open at the condo, it should be no surprise that the woman with the tendency to wander showed up again the next week. This time she walked right in the kitchen entry, roamed around the condo looking for someone, and kept asking for some non-understandable thing.

This time I knew what to do, and wholeheartedly: I took her gently by the hand and led her into the living room to sit next to my wife. Claire immediately started a conversation with the woman, assuring her that everything was OK, that she was safe, and that she needed to stay seated awhile (literally, as Claire can’t walk without assistance very well).

Claire and our neighbor made for an interesting twosome, one needing the other. Once I could see they were comfortable, I went across the street to see if the woman’s daughter was there to come and get her.

When I knocked on the door with no answer, I turned the knob. It was unlocked. I decided to walk in.

Who do I find? The centenarian, but no caregiver daughter, nor an emergency contact phone number posted. I asked the man if he had a phone number so that I could get in touch with his daughter. He did not! I made sure that he was okay, and I headed back to our condo. As I was going home, I was able to enlist the help of my upstairs neighbor who was in her open garage. (A lot happens with open garages apparently!) Together, we figured out who had the number to call the woman’s daughter and let her know what was happening.

Less than 15 minutes later, the caregiver daughter was in our home to collect her mother. Although she apologized many times for the inconvenience, I assured her that this was my lesson to learn. (Yes, she did agree that a contact number would be helpful in the house, and made very visible for future reference.) Besides that, there was absolutely no reason to apologize. This is what community is for.

Caregiving is the combined effort of many participants, or should be. And, as a caregiver myself, I knew how hard it was to cover all angles, all the time.

After mother and daughter left for home, I sat with Claire in the living room, tears in my eyes for the repeat lesson in compassionate giving to everyone I meet who is in need, not just Claire for whom I am the main caregiver. The woman’s daughter and I became good friends, and I have continued to recall this experience each time I might not want to involve myself in a communal capacity. I now remember the great satisfied feeling I have in going forward asking if they need my help.

I also have one of the best reminders to do so, and that is my wife, Claire. Even with her own physical issues, she is always ready to give a helping hand – or offer mine – wherever and whenever she sees it is needed. Lessons in being more compassionate, caring, loving, empathetic and giving are there for all of us.

Now is the time to be aware of those around us, looking and actually seeing those who are physically challenged, and not being afraid to offer assistance when needed.

– Helping someone negotiate a curb if that 4”to 6” step is challenging.
– Holding the door open.
– In a parking lot, helping to load packages into their vehicle.
– When driving, not stopping in the pedestrian cross walk.
– When driving, being aware of persons in mobility devices, and giving them the right of way.
– When walking in a mall or on the sidewalk, being aware of persons using mobility devices around you.
– Smile, say hello and maybe even chat to a person who is challenged.

Why be in such a hurry? Stop, look, and listen. Be awake and aware. Opportunity to offer caregiving is knocking for all of us.

Until next time,