A Visit with Richard

Whenever I visit my in-laws, about 3 hours from where we live, I always make it a point to visit an old friend of mine, Richard, who suffers from dementia.

I’ve written about Richard before and our friendship is unique. In 1997, when I was beginning my career, I bought Richard’s old car and that encounter started a lifelong friendship. He’s a dear friend and I’ve watched him transition from a recent retiree with a penchant for tennis, good food and conversation to a man who smiles a lot but is basically living alone in a very nice facility for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

On a recent visit I decided to take my 7-year-old with me. My belief is that it’s important for kids to get an idea of what life looks like outside the walls of their comfort zone by visiting neighborhoods or places that make them think, while exposing them to new situations or ways of living. This certainly qualifies.

The place where Richard lives is clean, quiet and filled with happy, positive employees who give the residents space and every comfort they can. They truly seem to care about the individuals living there. We should all be so lucky at the end stages of our lives.

Before 7 and I went in I told him that Mr. Richard has difficulty remembering things and that piece of information prompted about 35 questions from my inquisitive son, most of which were of the “why” variety. Satisfied, we approached the front door. 7 then stopped in his tracks.

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

“Daddy, what if say something about Mr. Richard not remembering me?” he wondered.

Richard has met my kids before. When he was well, we would talk about my sons all the time. Richard never had kids and he enjoyed hearing about all the successes and fun we were having. Over a period of a few years, Richard’s ability to remember things quickly diminished. He became forgetful of large parts of his life and even began to suspect that people were trying to take advantage of him. For a man who was once so vibrant and alive and enjoyed his successful career and all its trappings, it was tough to watch.

“Don’t worry,” I  assured my son. “You won’t say anything and even if you do, Mr. Richard probably won’t notice it.”

As soon as we walked in the door you could feel a sense of joy enter the place. My son has many admirable qualities. One of the best is his ability to make people smile. He’s got that type of charm. He walked right up to Richard, shook his hand and said, “Hello, Mr. Richard. How are you?”

From there, Richard and my son talked and gabbed, mostly about my son’s new light up fidget spinner. They bonded, hugged and shared some laughs and my son quickly branched out talking to 3 or 4 other people sitting in the room, regaling them with his adventures. He had them smiling and laughing within minutes.

It dawned on me that this was a form of kid therapy, a way to bring a happy, outgoing child into a place where people might seem sad or lonely and brighten their day. 7 did just that, in abundance.

As we got into our car to leave the facility, my son appeared deep in thought. I asked him what he thought of spending some time with Mr. Richard.

“I like his style,” my son said. “He lives in his own reality and I think that’s really cool.”

(Photo credit: IsaacMao via Foter.com / CC BY)

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The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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