The Day We Lost Uncle Ted

Today, after we spent a good part of the day cheering for my niece at her dance competition, we decided we needed to get things done. Christmas things. We went to lunch to keep up our strength and then went home and caught the end of the hockey game. I could hardly keep my eyes open which turned out to be ok because my team lost, anyway.

“I think I have to lay down for a while,” I said. So much for getting things done!

J came down to kiss me goodbye, since he was leaving to go shopping.

I woke up three hours later, started a load of laundry and set about to cookie making, rested and festive, excited to be feeling Christmas-y. (It is amazing what sleep can do, no?)

J came home, cranky, shortly after. Christmas shopping has that effect sometimes, right? Too many people, too long of lines, too much Christmas music, too much pressure, did I mention to many people?

It is when I am disgusted with people the most that I remember when we lost Uncle Ted.

It was the end of May, my grandparents wedding anniversary. I always remember because Gram had lilacs at her wedding, and that’s when lilacs bloom in Minnesota. We were celebrating their 60 year wedding anniversary that day. Mom, my three sisters and I were in charge of the party.

Mom rented a pavilion at a local park with a lake, a playground and some walking trails. Dad came and power washed all the tables and Mom set them with white lacy table clothes. Mom ordered an ACTUAL wedding cake, with a big 60 as the cake topper.

My sister Megan hung the tulle and made the flower arrangements for each table. Us girls had all gotten together to make sugar mints, the way Gram always made them, in the shapes of pink roses and green leaves. We set them out on pretty dishes around the cake.

My sisters and I had cooked like crazy and we manned the buffet table as the guests started to arrive. Gram was not quite all herself by that time, but she knew the party was for her for their anniversary and she talked to all the guests.

Everything went spectacularly well. I cut a wedding cake for the first time ever and did not run out of cake as I had feared I would. We served cake and coffee. The kids wandered off to the playground, the adults took pictures and talked around tables.

But then someone noticed.

“Where’s Ted?” My uncle asked.

We all looked around. No Ted. We split out into different directions and paths to look for him.

My Uncle Ted has Down’s syndrome, so though he is an adult, he requires supervision like a child. He didn’t always need to be watched so closely, but as he’s aged and dementia has started, he requires closer monitoring. We had all been so busy with the party and the food and the cake that we hadn’t seen him leave. It had always been everyone’s job to watch Ted.

We cased the park. Everyone came back empty handed. The fact that there was a lake nearby was worrying all of us, though it would be unlike Uncle Ted to have gone into the water without at least taking his shoes off, and there were no shoes left on the beach.

“We better call the police,” my sister said.

We reported him missing and an officer responded to the call. Then he called more officers, and the fire departments from several different cities showed up.

They organized search parties. Everyone at the party who could participated in the search, along with SO MANY PEOPLE WE DIDN’T KNOW.

A helicopter started flying low over the lake, searching by infared for a body. The commotion brought in all the people from nearby neighborhoods, and they joined the search.

People packed into fire trucks and went to their assigned neighborhoods, knocking on doors, asking if they’ve seen a short, blonde man with Downs who might have seemed lost or confused. Checking sheds and forests and outbuildings.

The sun was starting to set so those of us who lived close ran home to our houses and got sweatshirts and warm socks (for pulling up over your pants to keep the ticks out while you search the woods) and passed them out to whoever needed them.

I boarded a fire truck with J, and a team of other people I didn’t know. I thanked them profusely, all of them. Most of them just shrugged and said something like, “We wanted to help”. The sheer number of people that had never met my Uncle but still CARED enough to help was overwhelming.

Across the street from the park, at a house that was set off by itself, not really part of a neighborhood, the homeowners were just pulling into their driveway. When they saw a strange man sitting in the rocking chair on their porch, they called the police, who just happened to be nearby, searching for said strange man.

Uncle Ted was fine and found, and everyone cheered when the call came in over the fireman’s radio.

My Uncle Ted was somewhat of a celebrity, all the fuss and people gathered around just for him.

“There was A PARTY Uncle Ted,” my sister Megan said to him.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. Then she gave him a hug. What else could we do, really?

We all of us thanked all the volunteers and the firefighters and the officers and the people who came out of nowhere to help us when we needed it.

When I’m feeling mad (or discouraged or disgusted) at people in general, I remind myself of that one day, when humanity showed me it’s true colors.

Happy Holiday Season everyone!

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