Between a Hug and a Hard Place

Posted on February 8, 2017


The day program I go to weekly serves adults with cognitive difficulties. This includes dementia, developmental delays, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), Down’s Syndrome, etc. I met Lulu* there. It’s hard to tell Lulu’s age. I am guessing she’s in her 40s. She is of a robust constitution and a quiet demeanour. She seems reserved and avoids all eye contact till she has to – when her name is called. She constantly rocks herself, sometimes quiet, sometimes muttering. And boy, does she have a temper!

Lulu loves her food. Of late, when denied her tenth cookie of the morning, she gets mad…very mad. She’ll throw food and cuss and kick. I am confident that she’d never hurt anybody though. I know I can’t predict, but when you spend time with someone on a regular basis, you can sort of say. She never has. We just let her sit by herself in a different room. She mutters and swears under her breath. But when you sit by her, she is cordial and will answer any question you ask her.

A few days ago, after a more than usual fiery tantrum, Lulu was made to go sit in the other room. She seemed to quiet down. A Program Worker was eating her lunch near her. I went up to them and tried to make small talk. For a second, I saw Lulu smirking and I asked her what was funny. And then came the avalanche of tears and snot. She cried uncontrollably, head in her hands.

cfa-support-background-elephant-umbrellaI asked, “Oh no, Lulu! What happened? Do you want to talk about it?” She just shook her head to say no and continued to bawl. I felt so helpless. I walked closer to her and began rubbing her back gently. She was rocking back and forth. I did that for several minutes, just saying to her, “I am so sorry you’re feeling this way! I wish I could take your pain away.” She continued to cry, albeit a little softer. Her rocking slowed. I was encouraged, “Lulu, we love you. We’re just concerned about your health. I would do the same to my sister or father – not let them overeat.” She didn’t say anything. “Do you believe me when I say that we love you?” To my surprise, she nodded yes.

We sat there in silence. I rubbed her back for a little while longer. She cried softly for a bit more. Then she stopped. I sat by her as I did my work. She rocked back and forth. Life was quiet and peaceful.