selective focus photo of woman sitting on chair looking outside window on plane
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The American humorists Robert Benchley (1889-1945) once said, “In America, there are two classes of travel; first class, and with children.”  Those suffering from dementia can be included with the children group.


Years ago, I volunteered to travel with my wife’s parents across the country by air.  Her father had Parkinson’s disease, and her mother had moderately severe Alzheimer’s Disease.  They were no longer able to care for themselves in their home in California, so they were moving into their daughter’s home in Missouri.


Like a parent pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a rebellious child with the other, I made my way through the airport. One couldn’t walk much, and the other had the mind of a four-year-old.  She looked with wide-eyed amazement as we passed through the terminal.  Unlike with a child though, I wasn’t afraid she’d wander off and be abducted; I was just concerned she’d wander off.


After parking the car, my brother-in-law joined me.  Thankfully, he could accompany us all the way to the gate. We boarded the plane with relative ease and found our seats.  I placed my mother-in-law next to the window, my father-in-law in the middle, and I was the gatekeeper on the aisle.  So far so good.  The take-off was without incident, and the ascent was smooth.  Once the plane leveled off my father-in-law informed me, he had to go the restroom.  Though he walked with difficulty, he was able to make it down the aisle and back.  I was pleased my mother-in-law didn’t need to make the trip.


All was going well until a little boy seated behind my father-in-law kicked the seat.  I could tell this upset my wife’s father who ignored the boy’s behavior for a while.  Eventually, he could no longer contain his anger.  With difficulty, he stood, turned, and told the boy’s father to make his son behave.


Then, he dropped back into his seat.  It wasn’t long before the child kicked again, and the boy’s father made no attempt to control his old-enough-to-know-better child.  Eventually, my father-in-law stood another time and angrily told the adult to control his child.  In a flash, the father stood beside me and yelled at this little, frail man.  My father-in-law, who had no interest in cowering, returned a few verbal volleys, while I stood between them.  My terrified mother-in-law was agitated.


The angry parent was unreasonable; his son obviously needed correction.  I chose not to verbalize my opinion, but instead, I stood to look the enraged father in the eyes.  Then I whispered, “This man is eighty years old, weighs about ninety pounds, and has Parkinson’s disease. Do you really intend to fight him?”  I think the Lord gave me the calming words.


Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.  Colossians 4:6 NASB

I realized the ridiculousness of the situation and saw the approaching flight attendant; the humbled man took his seat.  We didn’t hear another word from him or have another kick from his son, but my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s Disease didn’t recover soon from the disturbance.  The remainder of the trip I had to calm and reassure her.   After a while, she couldn’t remember the incident, but she remained agitated.  She repeatedly asked where we were going and when would we get there.


I discovered on the trip, Alzheimer’s symptoms may be more prevalent when the patient’s routine is upset, such as while traveling.   It was even more difficult with a man with Parkinson’s disease.  If we must travel with an Alzheimer’s patient, we must have adequate help.  The patient is a handful without dealing with other responsibilities.

© Copyright 2018 Ronald Milburn

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