By Barb Arland-Fye
During a newspaper interview last week, one of the interviewees mentioned a quote from an article I wrote that made an impact on him. The quote appeared in a story about men who served as caregivers for their wives suffering from memory loss. One of the men, Thom Hart, had advised his two children that when dealing with their mother’s memory loss, “It’s better to be kind than correct.”
Thom’s quote also made an impact on me. I told him that our family should follow that advice, too, in our interactions with Colin, my 30-year-old son with autism. While Colin has a photographic memory, he struggles with anxiety, as do people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss.
Our family often expresses impatience with Colin’s repetitive questions, which I realize convey his need for reassurance. His anxiety, the result of too many changes in routine or overstimulation, can trigger inappropriate behavior. Our embarrassment becomes a barrier to practicing the advice, “It’s better to be kind than correct.”
Last Saturday night after Mass, my husband Steve was talking with parishioners in the vestibule when he saw Colin approach him with a 2-foot-tall statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Colin appeared to be heading out the door with the statue! My startled husband made Colin return the Infant Jesus of Prague to its pedestal in the back of the church. I caught that part of the episode out of the corner of my eye from the front of the church.
Steve, still involved with church activities, asked me to take Colin to our home. I was angry with Colin’s behavior but I believe God nudged me to recall Thom’s advice to his children. I strived to be kind rather than correct, and partially succeeded. Colin could sense my anger and tried to coax me out of it by assuring me that he’d had a good week at the special needs program he participates in.
We went for a walk along the Mississippi River that foggy Saturday night, which calmed us down. I asked Colin why he took the statue; he said he didn’t know. He did mention that a car in which he’d been riding earlier in the day nearly collided with a semi-tractor trailer. He also was disappointed that his younger brother Patrick’s work schedule prevented him from attending Mass with us. Patrick also will be graduating from college, and that change in routine is unsettling for Colin. To top it off, a family he looks forward to seeing was not at Mass that night. All of these things, I believe, stoked his anxiety.
Why grab a 2-foot-tall statue? I asked that question again. Colin said he likes things from ancient times. The Infant Jesus of Prague is dressed in a gown and red cloak, which looks ancient to Colin. I suspect the red color drew my anxious son’s attention to the statue in the first place.
As Steve got ready to take Colin home to his apartment, our son moved close to me, looked me in the eye and said: “I’m sorry for stealing the statue. I know it made you angry. You accepted my apology. Maybe next Saturday I’ll bring my stress ball.”
Oh, it is better to be kind than correct!
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)