Chaos and Kindness

Jennifer Leigh State

Chaos and Kindness

Jennifer Leigh State
(Editor's Note: We welcome Jennifer, who cared for her mom, to our blogging team today. You can connect with Jennifer on her profile page: @pattysleigh.)

We were just picking up a pizza from Costco, how hard could it be?

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Imagine being in a sardine-packed crowd, with the sounds of breaking glass and jackhammers, pounding music blaring, and not a familiar soul in sight. At this moment, with the hurried crowd of shoppers, the clerk yelling out "Order number 12 for pick up!", and the enormous shopping carts brushing past us, this is how I imagined my mom's world to be. And the look on her face and the sudden flinches she made at every voice and sound around us told me that's how it was.

I kept my arm linked with hers and tried distracting her with conversation. "Mom, want to see my doggies?", as I whipped out my go-to redirection tool: the endless dog pictures in my phone. "Look at her snuggling with the kitty! Aren't they cute?" But what once would have brought an immediate smile and twinkle to her eye could not even register over the chaos of a crowded Costco. Now she not only looked confused and rattled, she sounded it as well, as she began outwardly expressing it. A garbled attempt at communication to anyone who looked her way, as if she was trying to ask them, "Who the hell are you and why are we all here?" I knew what she was trying to say, I knew her old sociable self was in there and just trying to connect with people. But to everyone else, was she just crazy? Was she weird or even annoying? Did they feel sorry for us? Did they think I was a terrible person trying to wrangle this confused woman in a crowd?

I felt my face getting hot. I was embarrassed and self conscious. Please, God, let them call our order, I just want to get out of here! It's a shameful feeling to be so unduly self aware when you're caring for a loved one. My mom always taught me: just do the right thing and don't worry about what other people think. So why couldn't I do that now? Why did I care what a bunch of strangers waiting in line for pizza thought?

I cared because it was my mom. My mom who was smarter and more creative than any woman I'd ever known. My mommy who carted my sisters and I to swimming and piano lessons every summer and surprised us with awesome impromptu trips to Disneyland. My mom who sent us the best and most creative care packages when we were in college, and helped us fine tune our resumes when we graduated. She was a wordsmith with a flair for writing, and she had the best sense of humor (like seriously, the best). She loved animals, chocolate, and wine, and she was just plain fun to be around. She was so many wonderful things, and I didn't want anyone to see her as anything other than that.

Yet here we were, playing our backward roles of caregiver and patient for all to see. Who could see past that? Who could imagine these two women had so much more to their story, that despite my red face and her nonsensical outbursts, there was a deep love and connection between us?

It turns out, people could.

Not all the eyes on us were looking in judgement. Not everyone was whispering about the crazy lady and her frazzled companion. Nope, within that crowd there was actual compassion and understanding. There was the man, salt-and-pepper hair under a ball cap, just picking up dinner with his kids, who went out of his way to walk over and tell me, "You're doing great. It's a wonderful thing you're doing." And the woman just making her way out the exit, hauling her own box of bulk items yet offering me her free hand to help carry our pizza. And just when we were finally out from the crowd and making our way to the car, I felt a touch on my arm and heard the most comforting words anyone could've uttered at that moment: "I understand what you're going through." This woman told me about her own father who had dementia, and her eyes welled up and she gave me the warmest smile. She completely and totally understood, and I felt so suddenly at ease. What a gift. And from a complete stranger.

I should've listened to my mom sooner. She was right about not worrying about what everyone else thinks. There's always good sprinkled among the bad, and thanks to a few kind strangers at Costco, I saw it in spades that day.

Thank you, strangers.

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Jean

Jennifer, thank you for sharing this incrediblely well crafted story with us. You so beautifully put the emotions and details that I was right there with you. Your mom sounds like an incredible woman and mother. And I think she passed to you being a \"wordsmith with a flair for writing\".

Denise

We can feel so self-conscience when we feel like we're different or in a situation that appears to be different than that of the crowd. It's awful to feel like everyone is looking and, worse, judging.\r\n\r\nIsn't it nice to know that many people observe only to support?\r\n\r\nI love that you found that at Cosco. You picked up something even better than pizza. !!\r\n\r\nKeep writing!!