D Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: To B. Smith’s Fans — Shut Up, Stop Judging and Try Walking in the Caregiver’s Shoes

I remember the day as if it were yesterday when I first began to realize that something was happening to my mother’s mind. We were driving from the nursing home where she’d been forced to place my stepfather after he’d become confused, combative and unable to do simple, everyday tasks that we take for granted. It wasn’t an easy decision for her but it was the only one she, living alone and in her mid-80s, could make.

As we drove, she suddenly shouted that she was lost. At first, I thought she was joking. After all, she had grown up in Williamsburg, Va., the city where she and her second husband had met and lived together for over a decade. She knew those roads like the back of her hand. How could she be lost? That was the beginning. Five years later, I cook for, clean, feed, bathe and direct her every steps. Occasionally, on a good day, she’s a little like her former self: vibrant, engaging, comical, joyous, always singing, always encouraging me. She’s my best friend, again.

But those days have become more and more elusive. Now, she prefers to sleep late, to watch our big screen television while looking at reruns of old detective shows which in her state of mind, lead her to believe that she’s seeing each episode for the first time. She reads the paper over and over again — as if the daily news had just been placed on her lap. Elaborate dresses, beautiful furs, wigs and jewelry and trips abroad have made way for soiled diapers, requests for something else to eat after I’ve cooked to her specifications the meal before her and a look in her eyes that tells me she’s afraid of today and tomorrow.

Nothing could have prepared me for being my mother’s caregiver. But I refuse to give up, to give in or to allow the spirit of depression to take over our home or my soul.

So, I can imagine what Dan Gasby, the husband of the legendary restaurateur B. Smith, is going through. What I cannot fathom is why so many fans as well as some of Smith’s closest celebrity pals are so incensed by his decision to allow his longtime girlfriend to live in their house. I get it. But I don’t.

I can only speak to the pain I routinely experience, the tears that frequently soak my pillow, the frustration that eats at my very core when despite my best efforts, I cannot resurrect the “old Mom,” even for a few brief moments because I miss that part of her so much.

I don’t know what decisions Smith and Gasby made as they realized she’s begun along the mental decline from which there’s no return. But I’m sure they had more than a few heart-to-heart talks. Just like Mom and I did. Moreover, I’d bet that more than anything, he wishes he could turn the clock back. I’ll bet he’s prayed until his knees are sore and bloody that he’s simply having a bad dream and that when he awakes, he’ll be able to exclaim, “Wow, that was some nightmare.”

But it’s reality for him — as I too have had to accept my own reality. So, before folks jump on the bandwagon and decide that he should abandon all semblances of normal life and join his wife in Never, Never Land, maybe they need to “walk a mile in his moccasins,” as the Native American adage suggests. If that’s impossible, try walking in mine — just for a day or two. Then, perhaps more people will be able to understand. Maybe they’ll be a bit less judgmental.

Maybe we should just leave B. Smith and her husband alone.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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