Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A woman walked into the

tutoring center today. I was doing some administrative stuff and saw her when I came into the reception area to get a student file.

The woman was old, but not desiccated-old. She was tall (well, anyone over five foot one is tall to me, but she was quite tall) and well-dressed in neat cotton slacks and a summery plaid blouse. Another tutor was giving her directions, drawing a map on a yellow sticky pad. As I passed by, I heard snippets of the conversation: walked to the library...can't remember just exactly...son will kill me if he finds out...

Having recently lost my mother-in-law to dementia, my senses are now more finely tuned to signs of a deteriorating mind. I interrupted and asked the woman if she would like a ride. Oh yes, she said, with delight and relief.

As I drove her home, she told me that she lives with her son and his family. Her daughter-in-law doesn't like her to talk to the neighbors, she told me, because she doesn't know them. This is a strange way of living for her, she explained, because up until her memory started to fail, she'd been a registered nurse. She was used to...she couldn't find the words.

Dealing with the public? I offered.

Yes! Exactly! She exclaimed, pleased.

When we got closer to the street marked on the yellow sticky sitting in my lap, she asked me to drop her at the corner. It sounded more like a plea than a demand. I asked her why.

If someone is home and they find out that I've been...lost, they'll be angry, she said. They'll keep me in. I was reluctant to leave her wandering down a street, but she seemed desperate.

Can I watch you go into your house, just to make sure? I asked.

She shook her head. Please, they might see you.

I stopped the car at the corner of her street. She thanked me quickly, pushed a five dollar bill into my lap, and almost leapt out of the car. I tried to give the money back, but that woman was making tracks. I put my car into reverse and inched back behind a bush, and watched her walk purposefully down the road.

I'll just watch, I told myself. Just to be sure. But she turned around and spied me and made an urgent "go away" gesture with her hand. So I made a K-turn and headed back toward town.

If it were in me, I would pray to have her determination should I face such indignity in the future. But as it is, I can only hope.


Colette said...

Liz, you should watch The Savages with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour-Hoffman. It was about a brother and sister dealing with their father's dementia. This post made me think of that film. It really made me appreciate life.

Liz Stone Abraham said...

It's on my Netflix list. Thanks for the tip, Colette.

Anonymous said...

I've thought about this story several times since I read it. On the one hand I feel sorry for the woman and those horrible people who make her shoo you away. On the other hand, the stress of dealing with someone who can get lost and possibly hurt must just drive a family crazy.

It reminds me of how most people will say they hope that when they die, it comes quick. But that when it comes to the people around us who we love, we want them to stay with us no matter what.

All unsettling and I can make no conclusion whatsoever--except for the fact that you are kind. May all our lost demented grandparents be lucky enough to meet someone like you.

Liz Stone Abraham said...

Thank you for reading and thinking about my post, and for saying that I am kind. It is terribly unsettling to see people lose control over their lives and be at the mercy of people who love them or strangers (not sure which is worse). My grandparents died well into their 90s, in their own beds, on their own terms. They lived sometimes hard but--I believe--good and satisfying lives. I wish the same for all of us.

Orchid64 said...

One of my friends has a mother who has Alzheimer's and wanders off if she is not watched constantly and there can be serious consequences for the caregiver when such things happen. One of the times that she "escaped" her paid companion while her daughter was at work, the police got involved as they were concerned that the fact that she "got loose" showed neglect. They sent people to her home to inspect the living conditions and treated her as if she were a criminal.

Caring for her mother has completely decimated my friend's life. She has no control over her personal time or options and she goes out of her way to care for her mother at home (and to great expense) rather than put her in a home. Her mother resents being cared for and "controlled", but that's because she refuses to accept the limits imposed on her by her own disease (or chooses not to). Being rewarded for her sacrifices by having the police investigate her because her mother decides she's going to wander off is quite a slap in the face.

I can see why families may be upset at elderly folks with problems who willfully wander away when they are aware that they may not get back. It's frustrating for them and can get them in serious trouble. They're likely not bad people, but probably get frustrated at trying to help someone and being repaid with more hassle because the person they're trying to help insists on trying to live the same life they had before they got ill.

Liz Stone Abraham said...

Orchid--yes, I can imagine that must be terrible for your friend. To tell the truth, we never considered keeping my mother-in-law at home. It would have ruined our lives and I don't think that she would have been any better off. Still, I applaud your friend for her efforts.

Bella said...

Liz, I live near you. I am wondering if you read about the man last winter in Waterbury who wandered away from his home and ended up dying in the woods a few miles away. I think the stress and worry families feel that their loved one will end up like that explains a lot of their seemingly harsh treatment of their confused loved one as they try to keep them safe.

Liz Stone Abraham said...

Bella, that story does sound familiar. When my was mother-in-law went to a nursing home, the care givers had to monitor her constantly to keep her from wandering off. A few months after arriving there, we allowed them to transfer her to a locked unit. This sounds very cruel and I know that my husband's sister in particular felt very guilty about it. But there was really no other way. Life can be a very unfunny joke. I try to remember to just enjoy and be thankful for my health.