At the end of the visit with “Mama C”, her daughter insisted that we test her Life Alert system. It’s the grey box with a button that hangs around the neck of fragile white-hairs. Sometimes, it’s white and strapped onto a person’s wrist. It’s all the same thing, a personal response system. However, most often it’s found hung on a hook in a closet, left on kitchen sink or with a dead battery when a granny falls in the bathroom and really needs it. On the commercial an older woman falls and says the famous line, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
On the same page, now? Ok, good.
Mama C’s daughter said, “Hit the button, mom. We need to test it.” She put the box into Mama C’s hands and encouraged her, “Hit the emergency button, Mom.”
She held it in both hands and looked at it as though it was the first time she had seen the device, even though it had hung around her neck for the last six months. After being quite unsure of what to do with it, she dropped it back onto her chest and began to watch the muted television.
After impatiently waiting a few seconds of Mama C vacantly watching Ellen dance with her audience on the small television, Mama C’s daughter sighed and reached over to hit the button on the box. She was as gentle as she could be after two hours of this type of interaction but was losing patience quickly.
“Alert! Alert! Alert!” sounded throughout the wooden paneled walls and over the nubby pink carpet. An unfriendly female robotic voice came over the speaker, “C, an alert has been triggered in your home. Can you hear me, C?”
Mama C sat on the couch and continued to watch Ellen who had moved onto a game with a tricycle, a baby pool of pudding and several audience members. However loud the robot woman yelled, Mama C remained oblivious to the demanding and was struggling to keep her eyes’ open.
“Mom,” Mama C’s daughter said, and patted her mother’s arm. “She needs to hear you,” she continued to pat her mother’s arm to wake her up.
“What?” Mama C asked, as her eyes flew open.
“C, can you hear me? Are you ok?” the robot woman continued.
Mama C’s daughter explained, “It’s just a test. Tell her it’s just a test, Mom.”
“It’s ok,” Mama C smiled and said obediently. “It was just a test, honey.”
“Ok,” the robot woman acquiesced, “I’ll hang up now. Please remember we are available 24/7 should you need us again in the future.”
Mama C nodded, “That’s just fine, honey. I love you,” she said to the robot woman. “Bye now.”
Such a sweet and unassuming person, Mama C was so accustomed to practicing kindness and love that these things have become parts of her very essence. While not everyone is as lucky with illness and aging, these elements are somehow deeper than the dementia that had caused her to nearly burn her home down a few months earlier when trying to fry an egg and to drive her car while sleeping (unsuccessfully, I might add).
Taking a lesson from Mama C, let’s put emotional unavailability and reserve on hold and replace them with genuine warmth and a desire for real connection with others.
Let’s pretend to be demented in our dealings with strangers, friends and family. If it means forgetting about past misgivings and grudges, loving unconditionally, removing the filter and saying the truth, what’s the worst that could happen?