Danny Royer: What I’ve learned while caring for my brother with Down syndrome

Now when I cross paths with someone who seems inconsiderate, I treat them with kindness.

(Danny Royer) Timmy Royer and Danny Royer recreate a photo taken in 1971.

I was walking into my favorite Mexican restaurant to grab a couple of tacos when my thoughts were interrupted by a loud and sarcastic voice saying, “You’re welcome!”

I turned to see that a man was holding the door open for me with his back. Both of his hands were full of bags of take-home food. He had been courteous enough to hold open the door, but because my mind was so preoccupied, I neglected to say thanks.

He was visibly upset and walked away shaking his head and mumbling insults. I’m sure he told his co-workers, or whoever the food was for, about the rude old man with a big belly who pushed his way past him without saying thank you.

My mind was preoccupied because I had been awakened by a commotion at about 4 a.m. that morning. I had recently taken my 52-year-old Down syndrome brother Timmy into our home. He had become a little disoriented in the night and couldn’t find the bathroom in time. He wandered a bit, then parked himself on our white fabric sofa. I spent the next hour or so trying to clean up the carpet and furniture and then putting him in the bathtub.

Mom had taken care of Timmy until she died at 88 years of age. He stayed with my sister for a couple of years, then came to live with us. I had never been a caregiver, so cleaning up messes and giving a grown man a bath was new to me. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this major life change.

When he was born, in 1965, life expectancy for Down Syndrome people was about 13 years. Timmy is now 57 and though it’s difficult to quantify, I describe him as having the mental acuity of a 5-year-old. He has lived with us now for over five years and we have adjusted well.

He likes his routines and probably has a bit of OCD. The day starts with breakfast. It’s a bowl of cereal, half of a banana and 3 small drinks. The water, juice and milk glasses must be sitting behind the cereal bowl in the correct order, or he rearranges them. When he’s done eating, I help him in the bathroom. Then at 9 a.m. I have a work conference call. I leave the house around 9:30 a.m. to work for a couple of hours. I say, “See ya later alligator,” to which he responds, “Goodbye crocodile.”

And I say, “Close enough,” as I laugh quietly to myself.

I go back home to fix his lunch and to hear all about what happened on “The Price is Right.”

One day all we had for lunch was leftover pizza. In fact, there was just one piece, but it was big enough to fill the whole plate. I put it in the microwave and then sat it on the table with a napkin and a Dr. Pepper. I noticed he was not eating. I said, “What’s wrong? Is the pizza too hot?”

He said, “No. I’m a man. I get two pieces.”

I said, “That’s all we have. It’s a really big piece. Eat it and be happy.”

He repeated, “I’m a man. I get two pieces.”

So I took the pizza to the counter where he could not see. I cut it in half, separated the pieces and placed it back on the table. He smiled and said, “That’s better.”

I wish all my family conflicts were so easily resolved.

About once a year I take him to the doctor to get his ears cleaned out. He is quite hard of hearing and the procedure seems to help, at least for a while. One day, I said in a loud voice, “Hey, Timmy. Today I’m going to take you to get your ears cleaned.”

He smiled and said, “Oh boy! I love Dairy Queen!”

I said, “Close enough.”

I found an old family photo from 1971. We were two boys, sitting together and Timmy had his little hand on my knee. We recently re-created the photo, trying our best to strike the same pose.

I never imagined that one day we would be two old men, just growing older together.

Now when I cross paths with someone who seems inconsiderate or absent minded, I treat them with kindness anyway. It just might be that they are carrying a heavy load at home.

Danny Royer is a health care chaplain who lives in Logan.