A Sad Reality at the Supermarket Last Weekend

Mom_silhouetteThis past weekend, I made a Sunday run to the local supermarket for a few last minute items before my work week began the following day. Nothing unusual, cheese for my salads, artisan bread for the slow cooker dinner I was making, etc. Matter of fact, I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t remember to pick these things up on Saturday when I normally do my food shopping. No matter, I get to the supermarket, park the car, go in and gather everything that I need, then scan the front of the store to see what register had the shortest line so that I could make a quick retreat.

I spotted the last register with only one older man who appeared to be checked out, so I got onto this line. I figured, wow, this will be fast, I got lucky today. So, with that, I put all my groceries onto the belt but nothing is happening, nobody is moving. The cashier is just standing there staring off into space as if she were bored stiff and the older man was struggling with his 10 plus bags on the end of the belt. I’m thinking…. what’s happening here, why is the cashier just standing there looking absolutely useless? I thought maybe there was a problem because literally, nobody was doing much of anything. After standing there for a few minutes and evaluating the situation, I realized that this poor man was standing at the counter, wearing red plaid flannel pajama bottoms, a winter coat, looking very pale and appeared to be winded. He tried to lift one of the bags and appeared to not have the physical strength to lift or put them in the cart. I look at the cashier and she’s just standing there uninterested and not in any way prepared to help him. He looked up at me and said I’m so sorry. By then, I understood exactly what was happening.

helping-handsAt that point, I stepped up and said, here, let me help you. He appeared relieved and moved over as I took charge. I noticed that the cashier had put everything in single plastic bags. Some of the items were heavy with pointed edges and there was no way he would be able to get them safely to his car without them ripping open spilling onto the ground. I looked at the obviously unconcerned cashier and told her with a stern voice to start double bagging all of his bags while I load them into his cart. She looked shocked that I would actually have the gall to instruct her to help but finally began moving at a snail’s pace, but it was very obvious that if I hadn’t stepped in, she was going to continue doing nothing. I finally got his bags into the cart, and I asked him, are you here by yourself? Do you want me to help you load these bags into your car? He said no…no, that’s okay, I’ll manage. Not wanting to further force myself onto him, I said okay and he thanked me for helping him. As he walks away, I see that he is walking very slowly and in my heart of hearts, I knew that he was struggling. But again, I didn’t want to push myself on him, so I stayed put.

Photos: Top: (1) silhouette of mom, Eleanor Van Meter, (2) Public domain image, (3) Mom at 86 years old, weeks before she passed.

Meanwhile, I get myself checked out feeling really disgusted with this cashier, wondering if I should see the manager about it, but decided to let it go…for now. Got to my car and put my bags into the back when I realized that I had forgotten a few things…so I locked the car and went back into the store. Upon checking out for the second time and getting back to my car, I was still thinking about the man. Surely, he didn’t load all of those bags into his car himself, but I didn’t see him in the parking lot. Perhaps someone helped him? After quickly scanning the lot, I didn’t see him, so I got into my car and started to leave the parking lot. When I approached the last aisle before exiting the lot, there he was in the closest parking space still trying to load his car. I had been in and out of this store twice and he was still not even halfway finished loading the bags into the back of his car.

Well, you know by now, that I had to stop my car, I wouldn’t sleep that night if I kept going…so I double parked…got out and again said, here, let me help you. I softly said to him, that he should think about coming to the supermarket with someone to help him and that it’s dangerous for him to come alone. He replied, I know, my wife usually comes with me but she is at home cooking right now. She wanted to come this time but I told her no. He volunteered the information that he had a triple bypass 3 months earlier and that he gets extremely tired when doing anything physical. It made total sense now. He then said, I can’t just sit like a vegetable and feel useless…I have to do something. It was then that I saw something in his eye, he was afraid of losing his independence, something that no older person should ever have to go through. It’s a matter of dignity. I finished loading his bags into the car, and he was repeatedly grateful for the help. He said God Bless you and Happy Holidays. I had hoped that he could get back to his place safely and rest himself.

A last minute errand for myself had turned into something that left me feeling both sad and happy. Sad because of his situation and in his realization that he’s not the man that he used to be and has become a man that is in line for losing his independence…and happy because I was there to help him. It was the first time since my mother passed away that I felt like I did something meaningful for someone else.

Now, what to do about this cashier? Should I let it go, should I speak with her manager or should I just say something directly to her next time I see her? What would you do? Seems to me that when I was a kid and working as a cashier in a supermarket, we were required to not only bag all of the items and put them in their little grocery cart, but also actually make change. These kids today are absolutely clueless about making change without the computer telling them what to do and what change to give the customer. What’s wrong with our world that a 16 or 17 year old girl couldn’t feel the compassion to move her behind to help this man?  I really don’t get it…do you? Is that where our world is going?

Eleanor Van MeterNow that the baby boomers are retiring and aging in astonishing numbers, we are going to see more and more of this lack of concern from a portion of our youth. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other diseases are plaguing our elderly, leaving their children and family members to be their caretakers. My mother was lucky, she had me, but what about the ones who have nobody to take care of them? What about the ones who are struggling by themselves? What’s going to happen to them if something as simple as helping them load bags of groceries into a cart is too much trouble? Will there be a helping hand reaching out to them if needed? I know for a fact that there are many young people that would have stood up to the plate in a situation like this but sadly there are just as many who wouldn’t have. It was a discouraging thing to see but it’s the reality of today’s world.

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Mom’s Supplies Go on to Help Others with Dementia and Alzheimer’s


After bouncing off of a great weekend, I’m still basking in the rays of the good feeling in knowing that I was able to help a few people. I didn’t realize that there were so many people out there that need a helping hand while taking care of a parent with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This weekend was very enlightening for me seeing Mom’s unused supplies go on to help others with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

While I was care taking my mother, also with dementia and Alzheimer’s, we found the need to use the adult pull-ups for her. It wasn’t easy at first to get her to agree to use them, but after awhile, she accepted them and put up no fuss, except of course, the effort it took to put them on. During the years, we seemed to get monthly deliveries, which filled my basement with cartons of pull-ups, leaving little room to walk around. Of course she didn’t use them all, as no person in the world could have used the quantity that was delivered to her. When she passed away last September, my basement housed 28 cartons of adult pull-ups containing 4 packages of 20 totaling 80 pull-ups per carton. Now, that’s a lot of pull-ups.

pullups3 From the get go, my intention was to bring the supplies to the local nursing homes to help some other elderly people. Apparently, after calling around to the homes, I learned that they are restricted and must buy from whichever source they normally order their supplies from and are not allowed to accept donations of that manner. Someone suggested that I call the local thrift stores, but I didn’t want anyone to make money from them…I wanted them to help other people like my mother, as a donation…free.

Finally, this past weekend, I decided to post them on Craigslist for Free. To my amazement, my phone started ringing immediately after posting. My phone didn’t stop ringing all day. I was stunned at how many people are in the very situation that I was in with my mother. They all seemed to have the same urgency in their voice. I knew that I couldn’t help everyone, so out of fairness, I took the first 2 callers, who had their own story to tell.

Photos: above, (1) Mom, during the first week of home hospice, still smiling. right, (2) the infamous pull-ups, below, (3) Mom in bathing suit looking pretty snazzy…happy as a lark.

The first caller, Ed, a truck driver told me that he just recently remarried and that his mother had moved in with them because she had Alzheimer’s. His new wife was care taking his mother, which in itself I thought was incredible, but also a huge stress on the new marriage. He told me that he was having the same toileting  issues that all of us caretakers have when taking care of anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Incontinence is not a pretty or pleasant sight and it’s definitely intolerable when finding yourself in the middle of this situation with an elderly parent. Plus buying the adult pull-ups on a regular basis isn’t affordable for everyone either, so it’s a tough situation all around. Ed was so grateful to get half of my offerings which would hold him over for quite sometime, that he gave me a huge hug…he had no words.

The second caller Steve, lives about 40 minutes from my location, originally from Boston, as I could hear in his accent. He also sounded desperate to be able to benefit from the free pull-ups. His mother with Alzheimer’s also needed the pull-ups, who broke her hip and was getting out of rehab the next day. She lives with his sister, who is the caretaker for her. They live in Boston, so he would drive the cartons up to Boston right away for her to use. He was an older man on a fixed budget, who was trying to help his mother and sister in any way that he could. Steve told me how much he appreciated getting the cartons and that he would be going to deliver them to Boston the next day.

For the rest of the day, I spoke with many other people who all had the same urgency in their voice, all caretakers to a family member, all needing the help, all having their own stories and struggles. I was truly amazed and touched at how many caretakers there really are out there, all having the same issues when dealing with this disease. When care taking a parent at home, the people who aren’t lucky enough to get their parent onto a state program to help with aides and supplies, suffer the most. They have no break, no relief and many times must quit their jobs in order to care for the parent. I truly believe that there should be an outlet for some sort of help, physical and monetary, while they are able to go to work to support the household. What will become of the caretakers who don’t have a spouse or family member to help out? What happens if they must stay home without employment? It’s huge problem in this country, and it needs to be addressed. The baby boomers aren’t getting any younger and as we all age, there will be more cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia than ever before.

mom-carSomething to think about…but for today, I will bask in the wonderful feeling that I was left with in helping Ed and Steve with their struggles. Mom would be happy about helping others like herself.

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Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Mental Decline

script     shorthand      handwriting

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has effected more and more people over the years. Babyboomers are all coming to age and have been faced with taking care of their elderly and aging parents, either coming to live with them or caring for them in the parental home. Either way, it is not easy, mentally, emotionally or physically. It’s hard to see the very parent who was once your tower of strength, come to a point where they are declining so much that you are becoming their parent and they your child. Most of the time we are doing this while trying to manage our own families, kids plus working full time. It’s becoming a desperate time for our generation and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Photos Above:  (1) Mom’s handwriting in 1985, (2) Mom’s handwriting at work, shorthand, (3) Mom’s handwriting 2014 weeks before her death, (4) below, Mom at an office party with Maury Amsterdam at what was most likely Bozell & Jacobs in NYC in the 50’s or 60’s.

My mother, Eleanor Van Meter was a very intelligent woman. She aspired her whole young life to be a career woman, and that she was. She worked in NYC at prestigious companies as an executive assistant, usually with the head of the company that she worked for. She had many responsibilities and took it very seriously. So, with that said, it was so hard for me to see her decline to the degree that she did while living with me. I looked at her as my superior, both mentally and in pecking order as a parent. And then, without a moments notice, I was her parent. How are we expected to cope with that?

I watched her slow decline over the span of about 6 and a half years after a fall in a supermarket, breaking her hip. A once brilliant woman, was now arguing with me on a daily basis, accusing me of all sort of crazy and insane things and at first, I would be hurt by her words, but then after educating myself, I understood what I was dealing with. Her father also had dementia, but being a young person at that time, I don’t remember this side of the disease with him. I do remember him sliding into the void, not knowing us, just staring into space with void eyes while confined to a wheelchair. I realized that this was the direction that my mother was heading in.

My mom was a born office worker. When living with me, a good day for her would be to sit in her room going through all sorts of paperwork, which could keep her busy for hours upon hours. She was no longer able to take care of her monthly affairs, so I had to take over for her. She would sit with her boxes of papers for long periods of time sorting and filing and trying to make head or tails of them. I knew that she didn’t understand what she was looking at, but was trying desperately to figure things out. After all, it’s what she had done almost her whole adult life and now she would sit baffled by what she was looking at, yet at the same time knowing in her heart that she used to know.

She loved the English language and would pride herself on her poetry and the use of the words in her writing. She also wrote letters, diaries and journals for years. Her best friend Noreen, who has known her since the early days in NYC, has told me of how wonderful mom was in her professional life. She also told me how her letters were so brilliantly and carefully written, that she could have been a professional writer. She was that good with the English language. The images above are some of the things that I found in her papers which demonstrates the obvious decline in her handwriting. The first one, just an excerpt from one of her journals, was a nostalgic look back from when she was a child. It was a happy time and written in her usual handwriting that I remember so well. The second is her professional handwriting, shorthand, taught in school and used throughout her adult life in both professional and personal times. I don’t know much about shorthand but I felt as if it was a different language, and as individual as she was. She would use it right up until the time her mind started declining. The third image is something she wrote a few weeks before her death. It’s hard to look at and certainly hard to understand how the mind could decline so drastically so as not to be able to remember the very thing that fueled her existence in better years. I can see on the second line that she was trying to write her name, ELEANOR. She started out with all caps and just couldn’t resolve it in the end, leading her to just scribble. How frustrating it must have been for her. I would ask her on several occasions when she couldn’t get the words right, “you know exactly what you want to say, don’t you…but you just can’t find the words, right”. She would always say yes, and I saw the pain in her eyes. Dementia wasn’t who she was, it was what she suffered from. Who she was, was an intelligent, highly organized and professional person with a very kind soul.

The very saddest thing, is that they know it’s happening to them…they know what they were once able to do, but no longer can do. They don’t understand why, but they absolutely know it’s happening to them. This is a very cruel disease. 


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