As children, my sisters and I loved to run barefoot through the grass on warm summer evenings and catch fireflies in the backyard of our home in Roanoke, Virginia. If we had watermelon for dessert on the same night, that was a double treat. We would sit on picnic benches while Mom spread out yesterday’s newspaper on the table and then cut each of us a slice with a butcher knife. We buried our faces in the cradle of the melon while juice ran down our chins. Sometimes we tried seed spitting but that was a game I never won.
Once we finished our watermelon, we went inside the basement and grabbed empty Mason jars and lids with holes poked through. Fireflies glowed all around us, lighting up at different times with a rhythm all their own. Our Scottie terrier would run around us as we carefully collected them one by one. Dad would retreat to tinker in his basement workshop while we chased lightening bugs against an invisible clock. We knew it was only a matter of time before Mom would call us indoors for a bath to wash away the sticky watermelon juice and dirt to make us squeaky clean. It became a game for us to see who could trap the most fireflies.
At some point in our adventure, dusk would fall. Dad would turn the outdoor light on so we wouldn’t trip over a picnic bench, our dog or a stray toy we hadn’t put away after play. The light wasn’t bright enough to dim the glow of the fireflies. It actually made it easier. We caught more fireflies because he lit a path for us.
One thing I’ve learned as a caregiver is that when a person has dementia, they need someone to turn the light on for them so they won’t miss out on life’s fireflies.
I made a run to Sprout’s Sunday afternoon and asked Dad to join me. He was only more than happy to get out of the house. Lightbulb. He’ll watch the traffic out of habit and loves to help me out if he sees a car approaching. “You’ve got one coming,” he’ll say. Firefly. When we arrive at the store, I asked him to push the cart while I filled it up.
We walked past the register where an older couple was checking out. The man dropped his cane and Dad backed the cart up so he could say in jest, “For a minute there, I thought you were throwing that at me.” His remark brought an instant smile to the wife’s face. Firefly. We perused through the aisles while I grabbed cookies, peanut butter and cottage cheese. Dad isn’t as quick as he used to be and since it takes him a little longer, he has more time to see things. Like the little 3-year old blonde girl dancing around her mother and helping her father pick out the best carton of eggs. My Father has always been drawn to children so when she danced past him, it brought a smile to his face. Firefly.
Dad always looks forward to Mondays and Fridays when he goes to Grace Arbor, an adult day care for people with dementia. Lightbulb. Once we arrive, he loves to hold the door open for people as they come in slowly pushing walkers, holding canes or leaning on the arm of a loved one. Firefly. The volunteers greet him with hugs and smiles and as I turn to leave, I tell him jokingly, “Now Dad, don’t get into any trouble o.k.?” He immediately quips, “Well then I may as well go home.” Everyone laughs. Firefly. After morning coffee, someone reads the Bible and everyone has a discussion. Sometimes my Father contributes to the conversation when questions are asked. Firefly. After a day of crafts, games and a hot lunch, everyone gathers around to sing songs from their glory days. Kevin plays the piano and my Father sits right beside him and provides percussion with handclaps or a tambourine. Firefly.
He harmonizes with Kevin and has so much fun that’s he’s often one of the last people there. He’ll look around at the empty room and then say to Kevin, “I think we’ve run ‘em off!” Firefly.
Every single one of us has the power to flip a switch and shed some light on someone’s path to fill their day with joy. Sometimes it’s as easy as knowing what brings a smile to someone’s face, engaging them in conversation or listening to them with our full attention. When we bring them joy, it brings us joy. It’s a win-win.
My parents have been flipping switches for me for ages. So now it’s my turn. That way, they can catch as many fireflies as possible.