Dear Orlando Airport Family Caregiver…

The care you provided was noticed. Thank you.

I’m currently waiting to board a flight at the Orlando airport. An airport routine of mine is to brush my teeth before I board a plane. I’m not sure where this odd habit came from. Perhaps I listened to one too many news reports of plane crash victims being identified by their teeth. I suppose if I’m found that way I want to make a good first impression.

While I was brushing my teeth by Gate 14 I noticed something in the bathroom. I noticed two people in the middle stall behind me. One person was male and the other female. I was mid-brush so I kept watching the pair trying to figure out what was going on. Honestly, I was expecting the worst. After a few seconds I observed the female remove the shoes and pants of the male figure and rummage through a bag to retrieve an adult diaper. I noticed her also retrieve at least a few dozen baby wipes. It was clear the female was caring for the male. She was helping him use the toilet.

I finished my brush and I decided to wait outside of the bathroom entrance to see what the pair looked like. I had no hope or agenda, I was simply curious as I’m personally fascinated by caregivers. After about another 15 minutes the pair emerged. It was a husband and wife. The husband wore a “Vietnam Veteran” hat and was locked into a wheelchair. The wife carried a slew of bags that seemed to hold all of the tools necessary to care for him. They each looked like they were in their late sixties.

I watched them take a seat near my gate and I sat directly across from them. I had little intention of interacting with them but I was hoping to learn more about their situation. Upon sitting down the wife immediately began a cleaning and feeding process. She wiped his hands and face, fed him a few bits of a chicken sandwich, and helped him drink what looked like lemonade. She fed herself a couple bites of the same sandwich and finally shared a cookie with him. She unraveled a headset attached to a disc player and placed the headset on her husband. She opened a book and read quietly by his side.

I usually refrain from making any assumptions about the health of someone I don’t know but I got a sense that the husband was not entirely aware of his surrondings. Perhaps he had a form of dementia. Whatever the case, the two did not interact as you would expect a couple would while sharing a meal. It was clear in that moment that the their roles shifted from husband and wife to care recipient and caregiver.

The only thing I know about the couple is that they seem to fancy chicken sandwiches and lemonade. I know even less about the wife but I know she is a caregiver. Specifically, a Family Caregiver. I observed her transitioning from providing a type of care that many would struggle to endure (me included) to sharing a meal with the person she cared for. It seemed effortless. I ignored my strong urge to introduce myself to the couple and talk to them. I wish I had. I wish I had bought them another lemonade to share.

To the wife that provided care to her husband in the Orlando airport, thank you. You probably perform the routine I observed multiple times a day every single day of your life. I imagine you’ve been doing so for quite some time. I also imagine you do it behind closed doors with zero recognition. I’m certain you’ll never read this but thank you. And thank you to the millions of other Family Caregivers that provide care. You guys are superheroes.

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