One day several older members of Ken’s church asked him to intervene with one of their friends living in the community who they believed was suffering from dementia, not leaving her apartment, and quickly becoming unable to care for herself. They gave him a key to her apartment, which they had in order to bring her groceries and check in on her. Ken initially had not planned to use it.
Grace was widowed and had no children living. Her third floor walk-up apartment was in a part of town that was becoming run-down. Ken visited Grace over the next couple of weeks. She would respond to his knocks on the door and let him in, happy to have a visitor, but she could quickly turn angry if someone tried to tell her what to do. Ken tried persuading her to change her situation, perhaps move into a senior community where she wouldn’t have to worry about meals but unfortunately, he was unable to get through her dementia. She clearly needed a guardian, but who?
By that time, Ken was feeling helpless, wondering how best he could help Grace. Then, on his next visit Grace did not answer his knock on the door. Fearing the worst, he used the key her friends had given him to let himself in. Scattered across the living room floor were small piles of fecal matter. The groceries he had brought the previous week sat unopened on the kitchen table. Ken called out her name, but there was no response.
Ken found Grace lying in bed. The smell of urine was profound. He thought she was dead, but as he approached she startled awake and he found himself relieved, but disoriented by a deep frustration. “How can this be tolerated?” he asked himself. “Somebody needs to do something!” As Ken recalls, it was one of those moments when one realizes that the “somebody” who needs to do something is you.
“You’re coming with me, Grace!” he barked, no doubt louder than necessary. She was weak, but he was able to sit her up in bed. He helped her change out of her urine soaked nightgown and found a relatively clean gown in her drawer. He thought Grace would’ve resisted his efforts, but she didn’t. Finding an overcoat in her closet, Ken wrapped it around her, picked her up and carried her down the three flights to his car.
The staff at the hospital were wonderful, taking charge of the situation when he brought Grace in. Just a few miles lay between this woman in need and providers willing and able to help. It only took someone to bring them together. Ken subsequently became Grace’s guardian. She died some months later. Her last days were spent among people who cared for her. When Ken last saw her, the day she died, she was again in bed. This time she was clean and dry, wrapped in a warm blanket.