My friend has a mother with dementia that lives in assisted living. At times, her mother has intense moments of fear and distress because she doesn’t know why she is living at the assisted living place. She cries and demands that she needs to pack her bags and go home.
You would think that at this point in the story, the nurses would try to convince her that she is home, and try to argue that she should calm down and just relax about where she is living.
But they don’t. She has dementia. She would not understand.
So, the nurses play along. They tell her that she is right; it’s time to go home. They tell her to pack a bag. She packs a bag. They walk with her outside to a bus stop and say, “Let’s just sit here and wait for the bus.”
And then, they sit with her and wait for the bus.
The thing is, it’s a fake bus stop. No buses ever come.
So, they wait and wait until, after some time, my friend’s mother looks at the nurse and says, “What are we doing here?”
The nurse says, “I don’t know.”
My friend’s mother says, “I want to go inside and watch TV.”
The nurse says, “Ok, let’s go inside and watch TV.”
And they go back inside. The nurse takes her bag and puts it back in her room. My friend’s mother watches TV and eventually goes to bed.
A week later, this scene repeats. At any time of the day, several patients may be waiting at the fake bus stop for the fake bus that never comes. Eventually, they all forget what they are doing and go back inside.
When I first heard this story, I wasn’t sure how to feel. At first, I felt immense sadness that her mom was scared. That she wanted to “go home” to a home that wasn’t there anymore. That the nurses lied to her. That she sat there without any hope of going anywhere.
Then, the more I thought of it, the more I realized that this story is gorgeous. There is no struggle. There is no proving someone right or wrong. There is just compassion and companionship and patience. There is total acceptance that we all live in our own stories and realities, and we can accept each other where we are.
Beautiful reader: If someone is in pain or scared, stop trying to prove them wrong. Just listen. Acknowledge their reality. Soothe them. Tell them it’s ok. Sit with them. Wait for the bus. Eventually, we always get to where we need to be going.