I arrived home from work on Friday hoping to relax for an hour knowing we had plans for the evening. This had been a fun and busy week for all of us and I knew tonight would be no different. Starting off the baseball season with a few visits to our homestead, a dinner out, a couple of morning breakfasts for Papa, and two medical appointment kept each day full, all in addition to our work schedule. Our intentions for this evening were to meet a group of friends for dinner and a play. Honestly I was tired and could have put on my own relaxing clothes and turned in for the evening, but I had heard the program we were going to attend was spectacular. I was happy I made it home early and figured after a quick rest I would be as good as new. But, things don’t always turn out as we intend; I never got my rest.
I walked into the house and Papa was not downstairs watching TV. I thought great; he remembered our plans and was getting ready for this evening. After a quick glance upstairs and seeing a light on, I walked into the kitchen thinking he would hear me and be down shortly. It was beautiful outside; I opened the doors and windows to let in some fresh air and turned on the TV. I took my time preparing a snack for Papa and myself, washed few dishes and put some things away. Papa still had not come down and realizing I had not heard any movement from upstairs I thought I better go check on him.
“Good Afternoon, are you getting ready for tonight?” I called as I walked towards the stairs. Silence. Confused, I started walking faster and said a bit louder, “Hey, how was your day?” Not a sound in reply. I am certain my heart started beating a tad bit faster. I was silently admonishing myself for not checking on him the moment I walked in the door instead of enjoying the 20 minutes of quiet time to myself. I quickly looked in Papa’s room, the bathroom and hurried back downstairs to look through the rest of the house. He was not inside. His car was parked in the driveway and he was not in the yard. I looked up and down the street and did not see anyone. Where in the world could he have gone?
Ok, I thought, I should think like Papa. It is a warm and sunny day; maybe he went for his walk to get his steps in. I quickly glanced up and down the street and not seeing anyone I did our quick loop around the block the opposite way thinking I would soon see him coming. Nothing. Back at the house I now ran upstairs and checked for his phone, it was sitting on his shelf right next to the charger. Now I was not only worried about where he was, I was irritated that after all of our talking he did not have his phone with him.
I was beginning to panic. I ran back outside for another look quick on our street and after not seeing anything I went to get my keys. Driving will be faster, I thought; maybe he walked farther, maybe he walked the mile to the 7/11 to get a Slurpee. I left the garage door open and drove around the block again and after not seeing anyone on the sidewalk I make the turn to drive up the hill toward the main road. As I was turning I saw Doug heading in my direction coming home and I was able to take a breath. I stopped in the middle of a four-way intersection and hollered over to his car, “I have been home for an hour, Dad is not home. I don’t know where he is!” Doug just looked at me, I was not sure he could hear me with the traffic so I turned the car around to follow him home. Together we could make a plan.
Doug asked me where I was going and when I said to 7/11 he shook his head. He had just driven that way and did not see anyone. He didn’t think that Dad would walk that far for a Slurpee by himself, and asked me if I checked with the neighbors. I said no and would do that as soon as I checked the house again. Frantically running upstairs calling “Hello, hello, where have you been?” Complete silence. I ran back down to the driveway only to see Doug standing across the street talking to our neighbor and could hear him say, “OK, just make sure he is home shortly we will be leaving at 4:00”.
Papa sauntered home a short time later and said I made friends today. What is wrong? What are you doing home so early? He was proud of himself for going over to the neighbors by himself and had spent the last couple hours talking with them. Once we had found him, we were proud of him too.
My first mistake was trying to think like Papa. It saddens me to realize that my thoughts were what I had hoped he would be thinking, they were not his feelings. Doug was right; he would not have walked that far alone, even for a treat. Papa will go on a daily walk with us because he knows that is what we want him to do, but it would not be his choice. He will continue to talk about a time when he would walk for hours every day but those days are long past. He dresses and put his Fit Bit in his pocket each morning as a symbolic reminder to walk, but he will probably never exert himself on his own again; he will only walk because others think he should. He will walk to please us.
Mistake two, thinking he will always carry his phone. I brought this up to him when I saw him, I only need my phone when I drive somewhere, and besides, the battery is dead. I mentioned he should always carry a phone, just like we do. I said the phone is sitting right next to the charger and wondered why he had not plugged it in? I haven’t driven. Honestly he probably would not have heard the phone ring to answer it anyway, but it would have given me peace of mind knowing he could call us if he needed to.
Papa’s dementia is a disease that is slowly eating away at his memory. He knows only what he knows. He knows the habits and routines he has done for years and the memories he strains to remember by repeating them each and every day. While we may be trying to teach him new things, new behaviors and new routines he will forever need constant reminders. Constant. He will follow along to appease us, but our thoughts probably will never become cemented into his memory. They will not become his thoughts. Without daily prompts he they will very quickly fade.
Lesson learned: Remind Papa every day that his family loves him, and he needs to put a charged phone in his pocket every morning just like his Fit Bit. And even if he doesn’t hear it ring, if we call enough someone else is bound to hear it!