Last night I had the honor of attending an award ceremony for local high school students who had “lettered” in academics. I, personally, had never heard of lettering in anything except sports. Making good grades was an expectation in my household, not a cheering event, but just the same, it was an honor to see good kids being validated for their accomplishments.
As I sat there, clapping along for over 350 students, as each name was called, I thought about the lives of our dementia patients. Many of them are veterans of WW11, Korea, Veitnam, Desert Storm, Desert Fox and even a handful, of Operation Enduring Freedom. All of them are accomplished men and women, having served their country and their God, while defending my freedom.
There I sat, applauding complete strangers, acknowledging their ability to score well on tests. Yet, my facility is home to men and women who are well deserved of standing ovations, when they enter a room. Their years of service is a long forgotten memory for them. Most can agree with you if asked if they served in the armed forces, but few can tell much more.
Not too long ago, I was at an airport in San Antonio, Texas, waiting at my gate to return to Virginia. As the aircraft at the gate disembarked, members of the miiltary were applauded as they walked out. Each face looked worn and tired. Their duffle bags appeared heavy as they proudly, yet hurriedly, moved through the airport. People stepped aside, applauding them as they passed by. A young mother said to her child, “Look honey, there are some of the heroes, like daddy.” One day, that child will hopefully remember her mother’s words, even when “daddy” is a very old man; reminding him of the days he was a hero. Hopefully she will brag to her friends of his hero status, boasting pridefully about her “daddy”. Hopefully, for “daddy”, and for the countless others like him, the sound of the applause will never be paused.
One by one, the academic scholars crossed the stage, pausing for their proud parents to snap a photo of them as they recieved their “letter”. They beamed with pride of their accomplishments, returning to their seats, showing everyone around them, the “letter”‘. The applause echoed as each name was read, strangers applauding strangers.
I hope that as each veteran grows older, and even becomes forgetful, I hope the sound of the applause heard in that airport never fades. I hope the sounds of a grateful nation will never be paused, muted or forgotten. I hope that every veteran in a dementia care facility has a son or daughter who boasts….”See that man over there? He’s my daddy and he is a hero.”