Alzheimer and The Touch of Strange Kindness: The other day, I was out grocery shopping at my local supermarket around 6:30 pm when an older man turned a corner into the pasta aisle and put his hands on my shoulder. I jumped up. My first instinct was to get angry and ask him to please not touch me. Then I noticed something. The man was crying. He looked distraught and confused.
Suddenly, he asked, ‘Do you know where my wife is? I’ve been looking for her.’ I told him I didn’t know and suggested maybe he ask the store front for help finding her. I was thinking maybe he lost her in the aisles. Hasn’t everyone lost someone this way? I was wrong.
He proceeded to ask, ‘Where is my wife? She was right here.’ Tears welled up in his eyes. I told him once again that I was not sure and gestured to walk with him to the customer service counter where they could use the overhead speaker service to make an announcement for her. He obliged.
There, the woman asked for a name. He looked to me in confusion, as if I had the answer for him. The woman half rolled her eyes and turned to me. ‘Miss. Do you have THE NAME?’ I explained he was a stranger and I had no other information than she did. ‘Is this a joke?’ she asked. By then, it became really clear to me that this man was very confused. Not just regular confused, but Alzheimer’s confused. Having had a grandpa with this condition, I knew it all too well.
I took him to the food court and we sat down. He was now shaking and crying softly. ‘Where is my love?’ I held his hands and I asked him if he had a cell phone. My heart was breaking for him. He said he wasn’t sure, so I asked if I could search his pockets. He obliged. I was careful. In it, I found a small flippy phone. I searched through his contacts and found one that read ‘Daughter Krissy.’ I immediately called her. She answers in seconds.
Hello?’ she said, her voice already sounding frantic. I explained that I was with an older man who I assumed was her father. That we were at the supermarket on Lane St and he was very distraught and upset.
‘On my way, ‘she said. ‘Can you make sure he doesn’t wander off?’ She continued, ‘Thank you, thank you. I’m coming.’
For 20-something minutes, I sat with a crying stranger. I held his hands. I wiped his tears. When he shivered, I layed my jacket down in his lap. I gave him answers he needed to hear in the moment. I kept him from trailing off. Because that’s the least I could have done.
Suddenly, in walks this tall young woman who looked about 28 or 29. Long black hair and green eyes. We locked eyes and she came rushing over. ‘Thank you. THANK YOU,’ she said. ‘I had to leave for just an hour, and this happens. I knew I shouldn’t have left him. I’m SO sorry.’ She explained that he sometimes runs off and looks for his wife. That he lost her 13 years ago, but he never stops trying.
She proceeded to help him out of his chair and thanked me once again. On their way out, I heard him say once more, ‘Where is my wife?’ My heart hurt, but I was so happy to see him with his family again. I share this not only because this man touched my heart, but to say this:
The majority of this world are strangers to you. I know that. But never forget that we all share this world together, and in it we can share kindness. That is the only thing that can keep us going. If you see something, do something. You never know how big your impact can be on someone else’s life.
I don’t care that the shopping cart I accidentally left in the pasta aisle during the frenzy of this situation was unloaded and put away. That I had to re-find everything. I don’t care that I ate dinner a little later that night. That I went home and cried my eyes out in the kitchen for this sweet, poor man. Kindness costs nothing.