The American humorists Robert Benchley (1889-1945) once said, “In American there are two classes of travel; first class, and with children.” Those suffering with dementia can be included with the children group.
Years ago, I volunteered to travel with my wife’s parents across 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 the hand of 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 a child, I wasn’t afraid she’d wander off and be abducted, I was just afraid 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 gate keeper on the aisle. So far so good. The take-off was fine, 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 sitting behind my father-in-law kicked the seat. I could tell this upset my wife’s father who ignored the boy’s behavior a few more times. Eventually, he could no longer contain his anger. With difficulty he stood, turned, and told the boy’s father who was sitting on the aisle to make his son behave.
He dropped back into his seat. It wasn’t long before the child kicked the seat again and the boy’s father made no attempt to control his old-enough-to know-better child. Eventually, he stood again and angrily told the adult to control his child. In a flash he was standing beside me yelling at this little, frail, man. My father-in-law, having no interest in cowering, returned a few verbal volleys while his wife sat surprised and frightened.
While I’m thinking the angry parent was being unreasonable since his son obviously needed correction, I chose to not verbalize it.
Instead I stood to look the enraged father in the eyes and exclaimed, “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 because I’m normally quick to anger. My anger is like a grassfire, hot fast and quick to pass. But, in this instance I spoke softly and calmly.
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
Realizing the ridiculousness of the situation and seeing the approach of a 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. I spent the remainder of the trip calming and reassuring her. After a while she couldn’t remember the incident, but she remained agitated. She asked repeatedly where we were going and when would we get there.
I discovered on the trip that Alzheimer’s symptoms may be more noticeable when the patient’s routine is upset such as while traveling. It was made more difficult when dealing with a man with Parkinson’s disease. If you must travel with an Alzheimer’s patient, try to have adequate help. The patient is a handful without dealing with other responsibilities.
© Copyright 2018 Ronald Milburn