I was at Trader Joe’s yesterday picking up a few items when this woman speaking loudly came walking toward me. She was likely in her mid-60s with one of those Bluetooth contraptions in her ear … you know, the thing that often leaves people (including me) thinking that the person is talking to you when they’re actually talking to someone miles away. At first I thought this was the case when I realized she was talking to an older man walking right behind her.
It took 30 seconds to size-up the situation – she was the grown daughter who had taken her father to the store for some needed items. He was moving slowly and standing in odd places in the aisle, looking as if his nap had just ended or he needed a shower. Not dirty but disheveled. Bothering no one. She, on the other hand, was nicely dressed and wanted her father and the rest of the store to know that she wanted to be somewhere else.
At first when I heard her say, “I hate shopping,” I thought she meant it as a general statement. But she meant with him. In a tone that was agitated and clearly not an “inside voice,” her comments and statements continued … “Dad…what are you doing?” “Would you just stand here and stop moving.” “Why are you looking at bags of nuts…you don’t eat them.” It was an endless barrage of these barbs along with overt sighs and complaints under her breath. On and on this went with customers ignoring the entire situation, too wrapped up in whether to purchase the oriental pot stickers or tamales.
I stood there in total disbelief at the verbal abuse this man – this woman’s father – was experiencing. I kept trying to catch her eye to perhaps offer a gentle, “It’s okay, it’s your Dad” comment to her, but to no avail. I then considered walking up to tell her to knock it off. Then I considered informing the manager although questioned whether anything could or would be done. Instead, I followed them around the store, pretending to be looking at items I never buy.
After making my few purchases, I waited outside until they emerged. It was raining and she wanted him to wait near the front of the store while she went for the car. For a moment I thought, “Ah…there you go” but her, “Can’t I get away from you for a minute” comment brought me to tears. Her father was visibly unsure about standing there alone, but her voice continued to raise as her yelling persisted. To stop moving. To listen. To stand near the bags. It was elder abuse, something I understood painfully well as my own father suffered the same when he was in a nursing home.
I’m typically an “act” person – stepping in when someone is in need. Yet here I hesitated because I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to pull her aside and tell her to straighten up. I wanted to tell her to look at her father to see how frail he was. I wanted to tell her that she disgusted me. Instead, I stood there to be sure he remained where she insisted he stay as she walked into the parking lot continuing to yell at him. I returned to my car, outraged and in disbelief.
There’s no way to know what stressors are in this woman’s life or what happened to her over her lifetime. Yet of this I am certain … when our parents reach the age where they need us to parent them, we’re obligated to do for them what they did for us when we were children – to care for and protect them and to keep them safe. For whatever the reasons, this woman remains part of her elderly father’s life and I can’t help but wonder what he may have been thinking and feeling during this display of such disrespect and disdain.
One thought haunted me all day and continues…before she knows it, he’ll be gone. No more shopping. No more talking. No more visits. No more anything. The end. Finished. Over. A relief to her? Remorse? Guilt? Regardless, no more Dad.
Maybe they never had a good relationship. But maybe at the twilight of his life, he needs her to help him live out the rest of his days with kindness, forgiveness, and peace. We can’t change yesterday and wounds surely remain. Yet before she knows it, he’ll be gone. And then what…?