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Posted by on Jun 2, 2018 in Bioethics, CRPS / RSD | 3 comments

Dancing garden (02.06.2018)

Dancing garden (02.06.2018)

Sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem. I was reminded of that this afternoon, in one of our gardens; that our eyes and our perceptions can mislead us.

This garden is partially shaded by a maple tree, and today its branches were moving constantly with the wind. Each time the branches moved, the patterns of sunlight on the plants below would change.

But at first glance it didn’t look as though the dappling of the sunlight was changing; it looked as though the plants were moving. Like a dancing garden!

Nature’s reminder that we can’t always trust our senses, our perceptions, to “know” the truth of a given situation.

That’s often true with invisible illesses, conditions in which a person looks fine – healthy, even – but deals with debilitating fatigue, or shortness of breathe, or other symptoms. For whom making it through the day can be a challenge.

So if you see someone – who seems perfectly healthy – parking in a space reserved for the differently-abled and/or seriously ill, don’t assume they’re misusing that reserved spot. In most progressive jurisdictions, people with cancers, cardiac diseases, lung diseases, and many other debilitating conditions can be issued passes to park in those reserved spaces.

If you know someone who’s mumbled under their breath, “Those people shouldn’t park there – it’s a reserved spot, and they look fine to me!” (or yelled at them, or left a nasty note on their windshield), ask them to consider this.

One of the people in that vehicle may have been in the early stage of congestive heart failure, or undergoing chemotherapy, or living with any number of invisible illnesses that make walking – or even breathing – difficult.

That this person may have been trying to forget their illness for a few minutes or hours, by doing something ‘normal’. Going to a café, a movie, a restaurant, a shop…

None of us should assume – when someone uses one of those reserved parking spaces – that we can trust our perceptions when they tell us that the passengers are all healthy and fully-abled.

Instead of eyeing them with suspicion, why not hold the door for them, maybe even ask if they need help. Be kind.


Why do I care about this? What does it matter to me? For two personal reasons, because of 2 loved ones

When my mother was in the early stages of congestive heart failure, not yet a terminal patient, she called me one day because she wanted us to go out for coffee. As though she wasn’t soon to be hospitalized; she wanted to “just feel like a normal person for a little while”. I knew it might be the last time we’d ever go to a café.

But she could only walk a few steps before she’d have to stop to rest; to sit down. So I called a local café, with several reserved parking spaces right beside their outdoor térasse, or patio. I reserved the first outdoor table, so she wouldn’t have to walk more than a few steps.

When I picked her up, I could see that she’d put a lot of effort into looking ‘normal’; I knew this was to help her to feel ‘normal’. She’d put on make-up, a brightly-coloured top, and had wrapped a pretty silk scarf around her neck. She looked better than she had in months.

Would you like to guess what happened when we parked in that reserved spot? We walked into the café arm-in-arm, so I could support her if she needed it. I got her settled at the table on the térasse. And then a white-haired man stalked over to our table: “How dare you park in a handicapped space and then just waltz in here and sit right down. Go move that car!”

At which point my mother burst into tears. Her planned hour or two of “just feeling normal” vanished before it even began. Her mascara ran, her lipstick smeared. She couldn’t catch her breath, because of her congestive heart failure.

I quietly explained to the man what the situation was, and what he’d done; I watched his face fall, and his shoulders slump, but it didn’t matter. He very sincerely apologized to my mother, but the damage was done. All she’d wanted was not to feel – and look – like someone with a soon-to-be terminal illness.

A few nasty comments stole that from her. She was so distraught that I had to bring her right home. We were never able to go out for that coffee; she’d been too upset to try again.

My second reason is similar, but ends in a better way, and involves my beloved mother-in-law. She had lung cancer, and wanted to go shopping to buy my father-in-law a birthday gift. They’d been married for almost 50 years, and it was important for her to pick out his gift herself.

Ater I’d parked in a reserved space at a small shopping mall, a young man approached us – yelling and waving his arms. My mom-in-law was frightened, and urged me to drive away.

Instead I got out of the car, and explained to him that she was very ill and had very little strength. That I was going to get her to a bench just inside the mall, and then go get a courtesy wheelchair for her. It was winter in Montréal, and I wouldn’t have been able to push a wheelchair through the snow to the car.

To his credit, his attitude completely changed. He offered to help us into the mall, and to go to get a wheelchair so that I wouldn’t have to leave her sitting alone on a bench with our winter coats and boots. I wanted very much to take him up in his offer (while holding securely onto our handbags – just in case!), but she was still in the car and looking distressed. I smiled at her and waved, to let her know that everything was fine.

This young man realized that he’d frightened her, so thought quickly. There was a large patch of ice in the space next to where I’d parked, so he & I agreed that we’d say he’d been waving & yelling to warn her to be careful getting out of the car. So she wouldn’t slip on the ice and fall. From inside the car we hadn’t been able to hear what he’d been yelling, so this story was plausible.

True to his word, he helped my mom-in-law into the mall, and helped her off with her coat. He literally jogged off to get a wheelchair from the courtesy desk, and was back within minutes. He’d even stopped to buy her a bottle of water.

As he was helping her into the wheelchair, doing a better job of it than I’d ever done, my mother-in-law was clearly smitten with him. Once she was settled in, he took me aside to ask me whether we’d need any help shopping. He clearly wanted to stay with us.

He looked so sad that I had to ask if he was okay. It turns out that he’d lost his mother to cancer the prior year. He remembered how very hard it had been for her to get out of the house, because she’d been so weak; he felt that helping my mom-in-law would be a tribute to his own mother.

So I told him that he could ask her, but not to be upset if she said no; that she likely wouldn’t want to put him out. Sure enough she declined, so I offered that we could buy him a coffee – to thank him for his help with the wheelchair and all. So the 3 of us went to a little café inside the mall, and had a lovely chat.

She never knew that this young man had really been yelling at us about parking in a reserved space. Instead, she was able to marvel at the apparent kindness of a stranger…

So the moral of this blog post is this: When someone uses a reserved parking space, but seems to be healthy, the appropriate reaction is… kindness.

Thanks for reading.

sunlight on plants

Photo: Sandra Woods


  1. Hi there, I just found your blog and found it’s really informative. please keep writing like this.

  2. Thank you for the brilliant information & links you’ve posted on RSD. It has been very helpful for my mother-in-law. Cheers!

  3. Hello. Thanks a lot! Really enjoyed reading this page.

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