And when my love for life is running dry,
you come and pour yourself on me. –David Gates
I’ve never really understood the huge outpouring of grief for complete strangers. I am sad when I hear cultural figures I’ve grown to love have passed on — David Bowie and Alan Rickman are two recent examples. But I’m not going to the flower shop and buying either of them flowers and then travelling to some appropriate location to place them among piles of other flowers from fans — that is, from strangers.
Maybe it was the juxtaposition of my father’s being killed several weeks before Princess Diana’s tragic death that made me ponder the human behavior of having time for strangers but not for those closest to us.
Let me just say that I’ve driven to Davenport to see a travelling exhibit of Princess Diana’s gowns and other memorabilia, and I sought out the location of her engagement ring when I was at Harrods in London. I respect all the work she did for others and was saddened by her tragic death, yet as I looked at the TV reports of the flowers left at gates, I couldn’t help but wonder how many standing at those gates had parents or grandparents who would be thrilled by a short phone call or visit from one of their children or grandchildren.
Leaving flowers or standing vigil for Diana attracted TV coverage, but Diana herself most likely would have preferred that the time be spent serving others. Think of the joy across the world if even a fraction of the time spent mourning public figures was spent closer to home, with friends and family who would be thrilled to grab a moment of our time.
“Sorry, grandma, you’ll have to wait ‘til tomorrow for me to pick up your needed medicine from the pharmacy because I’ve got to get these flowers to Princess Diana.”
“I’m too busy to talk now, dad. Don’t you understand I’ve got vigils to organize and candles to buy?”
When tragedy strikes, we frequently say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” Well, what you can do is visit the person and spend time with the person.
“But he doesn’t know me so there’s no reason for me to visit,” or “She doesn’t remember when I visit her, so I quit going. What’s the point?”
In this season of caucuses and primaries, when politicians are more often than not appealing to our emotions versus our minds, when Super Bowl commercials are telling us stories instead of giving us facts and figures, when we’re all in search of great “experiences” versus bland events, emotions matter. Emotions linger.
Think back to the most memorable moments in your life, the ones you like to share with people and that make you smile or laugh as you recall the experience. You may not remember the details of what was served or what the decor was, but you remember the feeling of the moment.
Think, right this moment, of a small gesture that would warm your heart. What is it? Someone placing a blanket over you? Someone bringing you a cup of hot chocolate? Someone rubbing warm lotion on your hands?
What if you took the gesture you just imagined receiving and delivered it to your grandma in the Alzheimer’s unit?
Why must the person remember your name or remember your exact behavior for it to be worth your time? Yes, grandma may not know you by name, your uncle may not remember you stopped by last week, and dad may ask you — his only son — whether you know his son.
Yet think of the lingering joy of someone bringing a cup of hot chocolate to you without your asking him to. Is it that important if you forget whether it was your brother Robert or your brother Pat who performed that wonderful gesture? Or does it matter more that you have the lingering emotion of feeling spoiled and loved?
Imagine the gratification of providing such experiences to your friends and family. If warm lotion on your hands sounds good to you right now, in these frigid Iowa temperatures, I’m pretty sure it would sound good to just about anyone, whether s/he can call you by name or not.
The Alzheimer’s Association is teaching caregivers, healthcare workers and the public that these acts of kindness and care do matter. People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will remember how you make them feel.
So what if you share the same episode of “Columbo” during every visit? Who cares if you tell the same family story every time? What does it matter if you flip through the same family album every week? You are creating a positive feeling for your friend or loved one. You’re wrapping the person in warmth and love.
Names and dates may elude, but feelings of love are unforgettable. Even though grandma may not remember your name when she says, “Thanks,” doesn’t knowing the warmth you created for her make it priceless?
I’m challenging you and myself to move from, “There’s no point in visiting her,” to “Let me tell you about the great moment I created with my grandma last week.”
I enjoyed your movies, Mr. Rickman. I’ve listened to your CDs, Mr. Bowie. I admired your gowns and your humanitarianism, Princess Diana. But I’ve got important things to do. I’ve got a friend to visit on an Alzheimer’s unit.