The Joy of Acceptance

Layne-JudyLayne and Judy Coon are great examples of accepting others. I lived next door to them for sixteen years and also worked with Judy at Zion’s Bank for three of those years. I know Judy as a co-worker as well as a neighbor. I can’t think of another person I know who’s better at accepting others. Maybe it comes naturally to Judy because of her brother, Ricky, who had Down syndrome, Autism and Alzheimer’s. She was Ricky’s primary caregiver for the last sixteen years of his life. Some of those years she was still raising three children. She also helped raise my two children. Our son, Christopher, was best friends with their youngest, Tony. Our daughter, Katie, often played with their older daughter, Becky. When our accident happened, Judy was there for our children after school and whenever needed. Through it all, she had the love and support of her husband, Layne. The two of them are angels among us and can be seen with smiles because of the love and service they give to all.

I learned from them that accepting our situation would allow us to feel joy. By focusing on the positive, we can make the best of any circumstances. Tim Gray wrote a wonderful story about Ricky in 2010, a year before he passed away. Some of it was published last Sunday and this is more of the story.

Judy says she learned patience through her childhood interactions with Ricky. “I think it’s natural for a child to be patient with another child who has problems. It’s just automatic now.

Love Conquers AllJudy discovered the best way to help Ricky from watching her parents. Ricky was extremely stubborn and her father was strict with him, but her mother found a better way to reach him. “My mom learned that all she had to do was put her arms around him and love him and he would melt. Ricky would do anything mom asked, Judy said. Ricky can often be seen extending both arms out to people, motioning for a hug. Never a hugger, Judy learned to be one for Ricky.

Like most people, Ricky has good days and bad days. The difference is with Alzheimer’s, Ricky’s bad days are beginning to increase. On a good day, Ricky’s facial expressions and gestures are often like a joyful child pleased with something they did. He can’t wait to show what he’s accomplished to anyone in sight, especially Judy. On a bad day, Ricky looks worn out and perhaps just wants to be left alone. Sometimes he cries quietly with a look of inconsolable confusion on his rapidly aging face. Each time Ricky finds Judy all is well again.

Accept othersRicky enjoyed doing dishes for Judy. “He would take dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away. But, as his Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, the results were mixed. Ricky started taking cups off the counter that were dirty and putting them away. We started watching for dirty cups and stuff,” Judy says laughing, even though she knows it’s not funny.

“When Ricky was a boy, he could walk for miles and find his way home. He had a really good sense of direction. But now, Ricky has a hard time finding his way to the bathroom and at home he started asking permission to go to the bathroom.” Judy says.

Some interesting facts Tim Gray included in his story:

Down syndrome occurs in approximately 1 in 800 live births, according to the National Association for Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46. Characteristics include low muscle tone, a slightly flattened facial profile, and an upward slant of the eyes. Roughly 40 percent of children with Down syndrome have congenital heart defects.

Alzheimer’s affects 50 to 70 percent of individuals with Down syndrome by the time they reach 60 years old, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The progression of Alzheimer’s in those with Down syndrome takes approximately 8 years, with symptoms so slight it can go unnoticed for years. The average life expectancy for people with Down syndrome is 55 years old.

Autism is characterized by a lack of development in social interaction, language, and behavioral issues, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with Autism often retreat into their own world. They may also repeat words or phrases without understanding how to use them. Behavioral issues sometimes include performing repetitive motions such as rocking, spinning, or hand flapping.

I want to follow Judy and Layne’s example of accepting others. By doing so, one finds joy and can see the true beauty in every person.

Working with Ricky

Over a year ago, Life with Ricky was written by Judy Coon and published on Uniting Caregivers. At that time, her friend and co-worker shared with me a story he wrote for a school assignment in August 2010. With his permission I share parts of his story with you. 

Written by, Tim Gray

Ricky Cromar

Ricky Cromar

At 1:00 p.m. Monday, Ricky Cromar picked up his worn, green Coleman cooler and heads for lunch. By the time he arrives, 25 or so warehouse workers have packed the break room. To reach his final destination, Ricky had to walk down a long narrow hallway past the conference room and call center, bend around two corners, a couple of restrooms and a flight of stairs. Along the way he had to open two closed doors and limp through one that was already opened.

Ricky can’t count the 150-yard trek or compare it to the miles he often walked alone as a kid. But now as a 61-year-old man with Down syndrome, Autism, and Alzheimer’s, it’s quite a trip. Especially when one leg is a few inches shorter than the other and you’re going blind.

“Here you go buddy,” Janelle says, as she places Ricky’s oversized red University of Utah jacket around his shivering shoulders and rocking body. Ricky doesn’t say a word as he flashes an exaggerated grin of gratitude at the twenty-three-year-old shipping supervisor. She’s accustomed to making her way around the 125,000 square foot warehouse and doesn’t mind the 300-yard round trip back to get his jacket.

For those that come in contact with Ricky, it’s a reminder to be thankful for the ability to do the things he struggles with daily. For many, his accomplishments are an inspiration. For Ricky, who often displays pride in the things he does, the walk just gets him where he’s going. Today, like most days, Ricky eats quietly alone. When he needs assistance, or an extra snack, there are plenty of helping hands. But the ones he depends on most are attached to Judy Coon, his sister and primary caregiver for the past 15 years. Judy is the bookkeeper for Pro Star Fulfillment, a shipping and handling firm for infomercials. She shares a 480-square-foot rectangular office with Ricky and he sits at a black metal desk next her.

While Ricky eats, Judy usually shares lunch with Layne, her husband, who is also the V.P. of Pro Star Fulfillment. They generally eat in his office, which is just around the corner from the break room. While they are both involved in Ricky’s care, Judy clearly has the lion’s share.

In a lineup of seven siblings, Ricky is the second oldest, Judy is third. She took the job as full-time caregiver about a year before their dad died in 1996 and eight years after their mom passed away. Growing up, Judy never thought much about Ricky’s condition. “He was my older brother and has just always been there,” she says. Judy would pay him to do her chores, including the dishes. She would then drive him to buy hamburgers, a major passion of his, which started their bond together. As an adult, Ricky still cleans up the kitchen all the time for Judy.

Before work Judy rides a bicycle 30 minutes, which is about the time it takes Ricky to choose a shirt from his closet. As he has developed Alzheimer’s, most things take longer and are often clouded with confusion. He is wearing gray jeans, rolled up the same six to eight inches his mother rolled them up for him as a child and as an adult. That’s Judy’s job now, along with helping Ricky perform other personal care activities most people take for granted, including electric shaving.

Before Alzheimer’s, Ricky was incredibly organized, especially how he placed pants in his drawers and how he hung shirts in his closets. They were all color coordinated. Now Ricky’s drawers are in chaos.

Earlier today, Judy and Ricky made lunch at home together. It’s something they do on days they don’t have to be at work early. “Rick, do you want one sandwich or two?” Judy asks. “Two,” he says, unaware he is flashing a peace sign. Judy gently hands him four pieces of bread she baked,  which Ricky carefully lays out on the oval wooden kitchen table. Sitting down, a careful exercise itself, he spreads peanut butter slowly on one piece, going well over the edges. Unhurried, he spreads Welch’s Grape Jelly on two pieces and puts the bread together, but not very straight. Judy lets him eat them however he makes them. Ricky deliberately places the sandwiches into a plastic container and then into “Box,” the nickname he gave his Coleman cooler. Next, he methodically puts a Yoplait chocolate raspberry yogurt into the cooler. Pop-tarts, one chocolate and one blueberry, are today’s dessert and a Minute Maid drink completes the meal.

At 1:49 p.m. Monday, most of the break room has cleared as the warehouse employees have returned to their work stations. As Ricky finishes the walk back to his office, he stands bent over his desk with a clouded look of concern. Ricky’s chair is missing. Jared borrowed it while he was gone, but Ricky finds it in good hands, sitting next to Judy. Ricky has an hour for lunch. He made it back before his time was up.

“Good lunch,” he mouths, with a wide-grin and raised eyebrows, like he just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. It’s an expression he displays often at Pro Star. Judy understands what he is struggling to say and smiles back.

Judy gives Ricky daily jobs at work, including stuffing DVD’s into small white containers that will ship to customers looking for long-term healthy weight loss. Ricky is also in charge of shredding files, one of his favorite assignments, but he spends much of his days coloring with the same steadfast concentration he displays making his lunch. Jared Starling, CEO of Pro Star, personally delivers a $15.00 check to Ricky every two weeks for his hard work and Ricky lights up.

Ricky takes tremendous pride in his work. Craig Faux, corporate sales manager for Pro Star , wrote, “When I have something going on that is causing me stress or an issue I need to think through for a minute, I go see Ricky.  He stops, but only for a moment, shakes my hand, shows me what he is working on, smiles at me, then says he needs to go back to work. I always feel better when I leave.”

On Tuesday I will share more from Tim Gray’s story.