I was grocery shopping on Friday night – a tragically bad time to grocery shop. I’ve noticed I get a little road ragey in the grocery store after work. It is always a bad time because everyone else is there and somehow it is usually when I squeeze it in because it is convenient and on my way home. Tonight was no different.
Anyway, the aisles are filled with all sorts of people: Moms with kids in the cart, dad with the two shrieking kids that he’s taking down the candy aisle to bribe them into submission (no judgment, I almost had to do that for myself), people grabbing three things, people with carts full. And then I passed a guy who looked to be around 50 with an elderly man. As a person who helps care for caregivers, I see these people now in ways I’ve never seen them before.
I have taken my own Grandpa to the store many times (back when Gram needed an hour off in the apartment days). He was always confused and slightly nervous we wouldn’t find anything and cheerfully asking every passerby where to find the (fill in the blank). I wasn’t a caregiver per se, but a team member, an involved family member. Confused grocery shopping is not for the faint of heart (and it can be a huge stretch for the introvert who doesn’t want to ask every other shopper where to find the milk).
Now when I grocery shop (and everywhere else I go), I see these people. In this case, this guy looked to be taking his elderly father shopping. Dad was confused. Not unpleasant, but it took a long time for him to make decisions. “Dementia,” I thought to myself, “the early stages. I remember those days.” I passed them a few times, and heard the son (presumably) say a couple of times “Didn’t we just get (fill in the blank) when we went shopping yesterday?” “Oh. Maybe we did.” Dad looks at the Oat Bran on the shelf for a long time, looks back at his son and says reluctantly, “I suppose we can put this one back.” He is clearly trying to remember but unable to recall. My heart hurts a little just watching, and the son kindly guides Dad down the next aisle.
These people move me to tears nowadays. These people, the caregivers among us, are the unsung heroes. In days gone past, it was normal to be caring for elderly parents and grandparents in people’s homes. Now it seems to be more normal to put them in a care facility. Don’t get me wrong, I think sometimes a nursing home is the right place for our beloved elderly. What makes me sad though is a cultural shift where we no longer consider them our beloved elderly. We consider them a nuisance. A distraction from our own (more important) lives. Something to work around. As I watch these men shopping together, I can’t help but think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen today.
I am just as guilty as the next guy of always having a to do list a mile long and trying to be super productive. Let me just say from experience, grocery shopping with an elderly relative is anything but productive or efficient. Being part of this tender journey toward the end of life with my grandparents has changed me for the better. I’ve had to learn to slow down to help care for Grandpa, to love on him. It has changed my perspective on what it means to accompany another on their journey at the end of their life. We can’t run from the suffering. We can’t medicate it away. We can’t solve it. We are all frail and our time here is passing. And we are all heading toward our own end — with no way to know what our own end is going to look like. Love is the only answer.
My grandpa hasn’t known my name in a long time but he knows me. He recognizes me as someone who loves him. I have no way of knowing when he won’t recognize me at all any more, but even that doesn’t change the mission.
“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
“Honor your father and your mother (and grandfather and grandmother) that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12
Today, at the grocery store, I saw Jesus. I saw Him in the son caring for his father. I saw Him in the elderly man who was terribly confused about breakfast cereal. And I saw Jesus in the love between the two of them.
We all know that we live in a fallen world and we see sadness and tragedy around us everywhere we go. But if we look closely, we might just catch a glimpse of Jesus.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8