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Behavioral Challenges: Sharing the word of God, part 1

I worked hybrid before it was a thing. 

Some days I had to be on the phone with colleagues in India at 6 am. On those days, I worked the morning at home, got some exercise mid-day, and finished my workday in the office. On the days when I needed to speak to colleagues in Europe at 6 pm, I’d head home for dinner before the “night shift” began.

Activities of daily living

Having this flexibility was critical to managing the day-to-day demands of Robert’s disease. On a given day, Robert might shower and then be unable to complete dressing. He might sit on the bed in our bedroom with his underwear in hand, looking out the window, counting trees for two hours. Lighthearted cajoling might prompt him to finish the process. But more often than not, at some point, I’d have to assist him with putting his clothes on. 

These simple, repetitive, tasks are called “activities of daily living” or ADLs. ADLs are one of the boundaries that demarcate competence versus incompetence in adults with dementia.

God is good

Robert is a religious person. He believes in the healing power of the word of God.

I’m not a religious person, so it’s difficult for me to give his devotion the gravitas it warrants without sounding trite. His faith is not about itemizing the failings of others or facilitating a “last chance before you go to hell.” His faith is not about exacting penance to reach the gates of heaven.

Robert’s faith is pure. He genuinely believes that the word of God will help people in this life. And he wants nothing more than to help people.

A daily ritual begins

As his disease progressed, Robert became more emphatic about sharing “the word” with everyone. He didn’t proselytize per se. But he had a routine for distributing religious texts in an unobtrusive and (mostly) harmless way. This is how he executed his plan.

At least five “Little Free Libraries” have been installed within four blocks of our home over the past few years. Over the course of a week, Robert would visit each of them to find and bring home 8-10 books, each on a subject that was swirling in the cultural ether of Northern California: vegan cooking or mindfulness meditation, or qigong for beginners. (He had a remarkably coherent sense of what might appeal to his neighbors.)

Each day he would print out several sheets of prayers in 16-point font that he’d then insert in the books he’d brought home. Each day he left the house with 2-3 books under his arm. Out for his candy run or evening stroll, he’d hand them out to the strangers he’d meet on the sidewalk or at the grocery store, telling them he thought they might like the book. He’d sneak the word of God into their homes through gentle dog training or couples massage! 

Continued in part 2…

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