Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Crying Woman in Florida

Something happened recently, and I can't get it out of my mind. While I was in Florida, I was going to start my walk (yes, naysayers who know me too well, I was going to walk!), and I was close to the starting point, when I heard a sort of commotion. I realized pretty quickly that what I heard was an elderly woman crying. I saw people walk by her, and when I got closer, I heard her asking if anyone had seen Bill. She saw me and asked if I knew where he was, and because I had spent a lot of time with my parents in their last years, I realized pretty quickly that she probably had dementia, and there probably was no Bill.

So I stopped to talk with her. She was very upset because she didn't know where he was. I could tell she probably didn't know where she was, and I noted that although it was in the afternoon, she had a bathrobe on over pajamas.

I asked her if I could help her, and she asked me if I knew where Bill was. I told her I didn't, and I asked if she was staying near there. She pointed to one of the cottages not far away, and I said, "Tell you what. Why don't we go sit down over there, and we'll figure this out." She continued to cry, but I could tell she was relieved that someone was helping her. She said her feet hurt, and that's when I realized she was just wearing socks. So I gave her my arm, like I used to do for my mama, and she thanked me, and we slowly walked back to the chair in front of her cottage. The front door was wide open, and I asked her if I could go inside to see if I could find anyone. She didn't care, I could tell, so I walked through saying "Hello?" repeatedly. I could see there was no one else there, but it was definitely lived in, so I went back to her and suggested we could sit there and visit for a while because I guessed someone was just running an errand and would be back soon. By this time she was calm, so we sat and chatted. I was getting my game plan together in my head. I knew eventually, I'd have to call the police, but I could tell she hadn't been neglected for long, so my gut told me someone who knew her would arrive shortly.

I told her my name, and she told me her name was Phyllis. I told her I was just out for a walk, but I would love to sit with her instead (a little more believable, right?). We chatted for a few minutes about nothing I can really remember. She said something and motioned to the upstairs of the cottage, and I asked her if she knew people staying upstairs. She sort of nodded and didn't really answer, which I knew meant she couldn't remember, and I told her I was going to go up the outside stairs to see if there was anyone up there. She seemed to think that was a good idea and agreed to stay where she was and wait for me.

When I knocked on the first upstairs door, someone opened one of the other doors. I asked her if she knew a woman named Phyllis, that she was downstairs and had been crying and looking for Bill, and she nodded and said that was her mother. She put on her shoes and followed me downstairs. As we walked, I first told her I don't normally walk through houses of people I don't know (I wanted to clear that up right away), and also from the past few years of my life with both my parents, I realized pretty quickly her mom had dementia. She acknowledged she did and said, "My sister went to the store, and Mom was taking a nap." I had a feeling that was the case. I also was thinking that as nice as this woman was, it was probably her sister who cared for their mother, and this woman had left her mom alone way too long assuming she was still asleep. At the same time, I was grateful to my own sister who would not have spaced out and forgotten to check on our mother.

When we got back to Phyllis, my new friend looked up at her daughter, and said, "Where the hell have you been?" I couldn't help but laugh. It brought back some memories. Her daughter said, "I was just upstairs doing some work. Come on, Mom. Let's get you dressed." Her mother replied that she was dressed and pointed to her clothes. Again, I chuckled. You go, Phyllis!

At this point, I knew I could leave, and I told Phyllis I had had the best time hanging out with her. She held on to my hand for a little bit longer as she said she had enjoyed our visit also. I wanted to hug her, but I didn't know how she'd react, so I didn't. Her daughter was very grateful and really appreciated my help; so this moment had a happy ending, and I left them alone.

This was about two weeks ago, and I still am thinking of Phyllis and her daughters. I hope this was a wakeup call for them to pay close attention to their mother. I did feel like Phyllis was getting good care, so I wasn't worried about that.

I think the thing that keeps bothering me is the number of people who walked by her while she was obviously in distress. All the experts are saying that the number of people with dementia will continue to rise, and I think incidents like this will continue to increase.

So I guess my point with all this is if you see an elderly person who is clearly disoriented or upset, please don't keep walking by. Granted, I have experience in this area and knew instantly she had dementia; but anyone paying attention would know something was not right.

I guess maybe I can use this as a teachable moment. That's what my daughters call it. Maybe I need to make people aware that there's a good chance they'll be in a situation like this, and although I am in no way an expert on dementia, I do know from experience that in most cases, when someone elderly is angry or upset, they are most likely just scared, and a simple conversation will usually help calm them. And if it doesn't, we need to call people who do know how to help.

I was telling my friends about this, saying I didn't feel like a hero or anything, but instead I believed I was placed there at the right time. I said, "Call it God or the universe or whatever you want, but I feel like I was supposed to be there when I was, that I was meant to help someone like I would have wanted someone to help my mama."

My wise friend, Tonya, said, "Maybe it was your mom who sent you there." Wow. I sure did like the thought of that. And right now, I sure am smiling just thinking about her. Maybe Tonya was right. Let's just go with that.