Mary Nell Dorris

When my late husband, Hopson, was in about the second or third year of Alzheimer’s, I began to laugh instead of cry. My mind was made up after laughing for the first time in years that I was going to continue to find all the funny things that happened and hug them close because it felt so good. But how could I laugh when it affected others even to the point of maybe calling the police? I wondered.

This began to happen often. “Help!!! I’m being kidnapped!” The first time was at church. You have heard me tell this previously. I was driving through the alley at church to let my mother out close to her Sunday school class. As she opened the back door to get out, he rolled down the window from his spot in the front seat and yelled to all those headed inside the church, “Help!! I’m being kidnapped!”

I saw my mother move faster than any almost 90-year-old woman in the rest of the world. She was embarrassed. I could not move myself out of this scenario. She could, but I couldn’t. What would I do with this car? With Hopson? Everyone had seen us anyway.

I put it in gear and headed home as fast as I could – and with my hand firmly on the door lock. This little episode absolutely immobilized me. What in the world was I going to do now? I had to take him with me when I went anywhere. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get to go.

The next episode was at a service station in Tupelo. I got out to pump gas and noticed that he was opening his door on the passenger side. “He just needs some air,” I thought. Oh no! He was walking over to the car next to me whose driver was also pumping gas, and that car was full of people. I heard him saying, distinctly and urgently, “Help!! I’m being kidnapped!” I had just started pumping the gas but I cut it off immediately. I think I rode home on a nickel’s worth of gasoline. I don’t remember how I got him in the car, but I did and with all those people just looking at us. They didn’t move a muscle to help him. Meanwhile, I’m breathing a prayer of thanks.

This happened often. I became accustomed to it. It began to make me laugh. I had mixed emotions about that. Poor guy! And I am laughing. How could I do this? It became apparent to me that people understood that something was wrong, but it was not a real-life kidnapping situation. How did they know? Maybe I looked like an overworked unpaid caregiver. Maybe he looked like a deranged individual. Maybe it was just God looking after one who loved Him. I don’t know. Yet, I became deranged enough to laugh. “Thank you, God. It feels so good.”

I finally realized that it isn’t that people didn’t care. They just knew. It was just like all those Walmart cashiers who somehow knew that I was the wife forgotten in the rage of Alzheimer’s, standing behind him at the checkout counter when he asked them on numerous trips to get groceries, “Will you page my wife?” I just don’t know what the bystanders thought when they saw me and the cashier continuing on with payment and bagging groceries and the little niceties of the day as if everything was normal. I just got accustomed to big-eyed bystanders and I kept laughing. I loved this crazy guy anyway but as I kept on caregiving, I kept on laughing. I recommend it.

Mary Nell Dorris is the executive director of First Friends Respite Center in Amory. She can be reached at 256-1130.

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