As with many illnesses, including some types of dementia, the ability to ambulate declines until the patient is unable to walk. My mother had a form of dementia, known as Pick’s Disease, that caused a regression in her ability to ambulate on her own, to walking with a cane, to walking with a four pronged cane, to walking with a walker, to being unable to walk. When Mom reached the final stage of dementia, as usual, David and I were prepared by having already bought a wheelchair for her. Mom’s confinement to a wheelchair never stopped our fun. Until shortly before her death, we went everywhere we had always gone, including to restaurants, the mall, parks, and many other places. When David or my brother, Frank, were with Mom and me, they always lifted the heavy (for me) wheelchair in and out of the car’s trunk, pushed Mom in the wheelchair, and helped me ensure she was happy and safe. When Mom and I went places without one of these strong, handsome men (David and Frank, that is), we received help with Mom’s wheelchair, as well as other types of help, 100% of the time we went someplace. I never, in any public place we went in Fort Myers, Florida, lifted the wheelchair out of my car’s trunk, had to open a heavy door while pushing Mom in her wheelchair, or placed the wheelchair out of other people’s way in a restaurant. Never. From an outing to a museum, to the driver’s license office, to any one of a number of other places we went, someone always helped me when I was helping Mom. After this unsolicited assistance was provided a few times, Mom and I remarked at how interesting a phenomenon this pattern had become. It was at that point when I began to take note of the characteristics of our “angels” who seemed to be everywhere we went. In every instance, Mom’s and my wheelchair helpers were young black men, some with dreadlocks, others with tattoos, and some with both dreadlocks and tattoos. Our helpers greeted us warmly before offering assistance, always smiling and asking where we needed to go. On several occasions, these kind young strangers ran, fast, from remote locations in a parking lot, to arrive at my car just in time to lift the wheelchair out of the trunk. On other occasions, our helpers exited a building, where they had been able to observe Mom and me, to assist us. One young man even pushed Mom’s wheelchair while I held my umbrella over her during a sudden rain shower. Our helpers consistently wished us well, cheerfully told us to have a nice day, and seemed to enjoy providing assistance. Angels, it seems, take on many forms and sometimes, they just happen to be present when one least expects them.
Melissa reported these encounters with angels to me in real time. It was surprising to her and her Mom, as well as to me, at first. But, then it came to be something of a curiosity as to what story I’d hear her tell next. I don’t think we had many offers of help when I was along; although managing Leola, in a wheelchair, did take 3 people when things like a door were involved, we had it covered. What was interesting was how often Melissa’s and Leola’s helpers were somewhat intimidating in their appearances. And, who knows what life experiences these people, mostly young men, had that motivated them to help. Obviously, something in their upbringing kicked in and they acted, quickly, to offer help in a kind way. Dealing with someone who is disabled or has dementia is challenging in many ways such that any simple kindness is greatly appreciated. The fact that these events happened so often became a noticeable example of how such gestures can make a difference in difficult situations. And, these examples inspired us to be on the look out for opportunities to pay it forward.