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Friday, June 2, 2017

Touched

I imagine that many of my regular readers might think I spend an inordinate amount of time at the supermarket. It's simply not true. It just seems true because our trips have inspired several blog posts. Think about it - when you're at the market, your life intersects with the lives of other people, complete strangers as a general rule. Oftentimes they seem to forget that the world outside their little bubble of shopping cart and companions sees and hears what transpires as they wend their way from aisle to aisle. Today's grocery excursion gave The Lunatic enough food for thought for as many as three posts, but let's just leave it at one for tonight, shall we?

We all have our quirks or challenges, and I saw someone today who reminded me of others I have encountered. As I waited with our groceries (packed in our awesome and sturdy reusable grocery bags) while Trent visited the Men's Room, I saw a woman and her son come out of the Women's. He was perhaps ten. They walked over to where a man was standing with a cart full of purchased groceries, a small child, and a stroller.

I noticed immediately that she was holding her hands out from her body in an unusual way. It made me wonder if there was no way for her to dry her hands and she was trying to do the good old air-drying routine. But her son didn't seem to have wet hands. Hm. When she got over to her husband, he tried to hand her the folded receipt but she didn't seem to want to take it. I discreetly watched as she bent her body to stretch out a pocket on the thigh of her yoga-style pants and gingerly tuck in the receipt with two fingers. Still holding her hands and body in unusual positions, she removed her keys from said pocket, again only engaging a couple of fingers.

Her husband looked a bit frustrated as she reached for the stroller with two fingers on each side. She said something to him, to which he replied that if she wanted to go down there, go down there, he didn't care. As she turned and started to walk away, he began pushing the laden cart to follow her. Then he turned to his son and asked him to push the cart because he needed to go wash his hands. And then it all fell into place. She didn't want to touch the receipt because he had touched it. She couldn't really bear to touch the stroller or her own keys.

I have had interactions with people with these sorts of problems before, both superficial and in-depth. I guess that some folks would consider Trent and I to be among them, but with immunity issues it's wise to take some precautions. Some individuals may have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or a deeper underlying condition that makes them extra aware of or worried about dirt or germs. I once had a retail customer who was buying bath oil beads. These were in fishbowls on our counters and frankly got handled by numerous people daily. The customer and her child came up to the cash register with the various bath beads in a clear bag provided for that purpose. The beads were made with different types of oils and had different prices, so I reached into the bag to sort them by price so I'd know what to ring up. This upset the customer so much that she kept remarking about me touching them, and decided that she couldn't buy them because they had been touched. As she left the store her child said in an anxious tone, "This isn't like you, Mom." She agreed that it wasn't. I hope that whatever stresses were causing her problems left her life quickly. Having to worry so much and be so vigilant can be exhausting.

I had some years of experience with this type of problem because of Gram's granddaughter T, which is enough of a name to give at this juncture. There was a history of some diagnosed mental health issues, on her father's side, which passed to her genetically. Things went pretty well until her young daughter broke an arm at elementary school. T fell apart and was changed forever. 

She didn't want people in her house. She would make her husband drive her over 25 miles each way every morning to drop her off at Gram's house. He would go to work and she would spend the day with Gram until at least mid-evening. I swear to this day that it shortened Gram's life by at least five or more years due to the sheer stress. I was in my first or second year of college and it put a strain on me mentally and emotionally as well.

T, like the woman at the supermarket, had an issue with things having been touched. She would wash her clothes, and her husband's and daughter's, in copious amounts of Lysol. The eye-burning smell of the disinfectant lingered around them. To this day, the smell gives me headaches and makes me feel uneasy. After the clothes were washed and dried, they were put in garbage bags so that they wouldn't touch anything that had been touched or was potentially unclean. A common phrase was "that's been touched." It was heartbreaking, really.

I grew to have a different understanding of the impact illnesses can have on families and relationships. I had always thought, when I heard about marriages breaking up when a spouse became seriously ill, that the person who walked away was selfish or uncaring or didn't know what love meant. I began to realize that sometimes illnesses can cause frustration, exhaustion, or any number of damaging side effects on those involved. I had always loved her husband, and the patience and grace with which he cared for her was nothing short of amazing.

There were other things involved in her illness that L was so patient with. When I offered T some cookies that I had made to take home, she wasn't sure about how to transport them safely. (Apparently, the fact that she wanted to take my cookies home was a Very Big Deal. I mean, it was unheard of.) Her husband suggested that she simply carry them on her lap, which she agreed was a good idea so that they wouldn't touch anything. When T and L would leave our house, L would come back in in a few minutes because T wanted him to check all of the house plants in case there was a mouse hiding in them. That dear, sweet man didn't just go in the house and fake it - he would check every single plant in the house as he had promised. And when it was 97 degrees out and she insisted that he drive with his windows closed, he did so, even when she wasn't looking, to the best of my knowledge.

I haven't seen any of these people since Gram's funeral, but I hope that their problems have diminished. I learned a lot from that terribly stressful time. We are all human, and all frail. Our health, whether physical or mental, can be virtually balanced on the head of a pin. When or if it falls, we hope and strive for the best. And if it proves to be too much for those around us, it doesn't mean they don't love enough or aren't strong enough. It just means that they're human too. That's all we can ask and all we can promise.

In closing, I'd like to share with you once again one of my favorite sentiments. Be well.


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