The Hedge PeopleClick here to purchase

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Introduction

     My father-in-law, Art, came to live with us in his ninety-fourth year of life and his eighth year of dementia. He lived with us until he passed away, two years and three months later.

     A few months after his arrival, I happened to meet a friend in the grocery store. She is older and more affluent than I. We did not have much in common until her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Art had come to live with us. Now we have a common bond which has forged a strong friendship.

     That morning in the grocery store, we shared a bit about how our day was going. Her husband was focused on hurricanes. He had been watching CNN and all he could talk about was hurricanes. When I told her that I had listened to Art read the address label on his Reader’s Digest at least twenty times that morning, she got a knowing smile on her face—the smile of a comrade who truly understood.

     “I read a quote this morning,” she said. “If you smile at life, life will smile back at you. Let’s keep smiling at life.”

     The goal of this book is to encourage caregivers of patients with dementia to keep smiling at life. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia is terribly frustrating. Mixed with the frustration is a deep sadness over the loss of the person we used to know and a haunting fear of what is to come. The Hedge People gives caregivers an opportunity to laugh over the situations we experienced due to Art’s dementia and hopefully will enable them to start seeing the humor in their daily challenges.

     The stories in this book are true. When Art came to live with us, my sister-in-law said, “Louise, look for the Merry Heart moments and email them to me.” Her request was a gift of sunshine to me. It encouraged me to look for and share the unique and humorous things that happened. My purpose in sharing these stories with other caregivers is to shed a different light on the daily drudgeries of caregiving, and to offer the reader permission to “Keep smiling at life!”


 1  The Hedge People

     We have a large front yard surrounded by a tall cypress hedge. Let me clarify that—it is a hedge to everyone except Art. When Art looks out into our yard, he sees the hedge, not as a hedge, but as a group of people. The trunks of the hedge look like legs to his failing eyesight, and in his mind, there is a large group of people out there. I call them the Hedge People.

     The Hedge People seem to draw Art. Having been a pastor who started fledgling churches, Art sees any group of people as a potential congregation.

     The first time he spotted the Hedge People, he whispered in awe, “There’s a small part of a million people out there. Do you think any of them play the piano?”

     “Not a one,” I answered, quite sure that I was being truthful.

     Sometimes Art stands on the front steps and preaches to the Hedge People. On other occasions, he goes out to talk to them personally. I have watched him march determinedly down the sidewalk, only to arrive at the hedge and look around, bewildered. Where did they go? All those people and now, not a one in sight.

     Not long ago, Art had the notion that he was a delegate at the Brethren National Conference. He searched frantically for pen and paper. He needed to hurry because he did not want to miss the missionary reports. After I had equipped him with his necessary supplies, he headed out to join the Hedge People for the session. It was not long before he came back in the house, discouraged. He could not find the meeting.

     “Oh, I heard that the missionary reports will be at 5 P.M. You have time to take a nap,” I suggested.

     He was relieved that there was time to rest with such a demanding schedule. “I’m getting old, you know,” he confided.

     There are times the Hedge People get hungry and need to be fed. One day, Art searched long and hard for Leah Belle, his deceased wife. She was hiding out. That woman! Trying to get out of work when there were so many hungry people to feed.

     By noon, Art himself was getting hungry. He gazed out the window and exclaimed, “There are at least seventy-five people out there, and they’ve been standing in line for hours. Not one of them has gotten a plate. I’m not getting in that line.”

     “Why don’t you come back here in the kitchen? I’ll give you a plate right now,” I offered.

     He happily sat down at the breakfast nook. What a lucky break! He could eat right away without standing in line with the Hedge People.

     One chilly morning, Art was on a mission. He was insistent that the Hedge People needed to come inside. They were getting cold, and he was worried about them.

     “They need to get out of that ‘outfit’ (his all-purpose, generic word for any noun that eluded him) and come in where it’s warm,” he said.

     He stood on the front step, calling and waving them in.

     Harmless activity, I thought and went back to the office to get some work done.

     Pretty soon, Art found me. He needed my help.

     “Why?” I asked.

     “Us,” he replied.

     “Us?”

     “Yes, I thought if we did it together, they’d find it more interesting.”

     “I have about ten more minutes of work, and then I can come,” I told him, hoping that in the meantime, he would forget.

     Undaunted, Art hurried off to try again. In a flash, he returned. “They won’t come for a guy, but they’d come running for a girl,” he said hopefully.

     I went out to the front porch with Art at my side and called in a stage whisper, “Come in! Come in!”

     Art was sure that my location and technique were not adequate for the task. We had to get closer, call louder, and make swooping motions with our arms. Taking me by the hand, he tromped determinedly to the middle of the front lawn and demonstrated how to do it.

     Then he looked at me expectantly. It was time for me to join in. So, there we stood, Art and I, in the middle of the front yard, waving our arms and loudly beckoning the Hedge People to take refuge from the cold.

     My mind was racing. Could the neighbors see us through the hedge? No doubt, they could hear us! What in the world would they think?

     At best, they would think that we were doing some morning calisthenics. At worst, they would be sadly shaking their heads, and saying, “It’s been too much for her. She’s lost her mind.”

     Oblivious to my discomfort, Art was in high spirits. It’s a lonely task ministering to Hedge People, but today, he had help.

     We called loud and long, “Come in! Come in! It is cold! Come in!”

     In spite of our enthusiastic gesturing and calling, those Hedge People were impossible to convince. Finally, I stopped and looked at Art. “They’re not coming. Why don’t we go inside and have a cup of coffee? We can regroup and try again later.”

     Dementia was on my side. Somewhere in that cup of coffee, Art forgot all about the Hedge People shivering in the cold. I had a little more trouble putting them out of my mind. It is one thing to be a casual observer of Art’s ministry to the Hedge People, but it was another thing altogether to become an active participant.


 Caregiver's Prayer

 Dear God,

     I accept this job of caregiving as your will for me right now. Help me think of the past with thankfulness rather than a sense of loss. Give me peace and joy as I accept today for what it is, and protect me from longing for what it might have been.  

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