Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Cause I'm a Wanderer..."

It happened three weeks ago. I was startled awake by the click of the front door closing. Looking back, I am astonished that a sound so slight and innocuous would awaken me from a sound sleep.

“Did you hear that?” I asked Dan.

What we both heard next were very light footsteps on the front porch.

“It’s just the cats,” Dan said.

“Are you sure?” I asked?

“Mm, hm.”

I lay restless for ten minutes, straining my ears, lifting my head at every sound. I was uneasy, itchy, anxious.

Finally, I got out of bed and headed directly to my mother’s room with no real, conscious intention of doing so. Her bed was empty.

“Dan, my mother isn’t up here!” I said, as I flew down the stairs and called for her in increasing decibels. Nothing.

Our house sits on a small dead-end road that intersects with a much larger street. I threw on my slippers and raced to the end of it. At 5:00a, the sky was as dark as night. The streetlights illuminated the intersecting road in florescent shadows. My head snapped right and left. No mother.

Back at the house I did a much more thorough search while Dan was getting dressed. I saw that my mother’s pocketbook was gone. One of her pouty-lipped Styrofoam busts was devoid of its wig.

“Did you check the basement bathroom?” Dan said.

“No, but I don’t think she’d go down there.”

“Let’s check anyway.”

Nothing. No mother. And no feelings. I was empty of emotion. My heart was banging, but for all intents and purposes I was lifeless. My mind was racing but my blood ran still.

I found her at 5:25a as she was just stepping onto someone’s porch, her hand reaching for the doorbell.

“Ma!” I called.

She turned as if in slow motion.

“Oh Lisa!” she said. “There you are.”

I jogged up to her and put my arm around her shoulders. She was clothed in her navy blue Capri’s with embroidered strawberries, a pale green top and a black jacket. She had put sneakers on, her wig, rouge and a deep red lipstick. She was carrying her purse and she was drenched in sweat.

“Where are you going, Ma?”

“To see Ann Becky in the hospital.”

My mother cared for Ann everyday after school for years while Ann’s mother, a single parent, worked. Ma would often take her for weekends as well. Ann was part of our family for a long time and something in my mother’s ailing mind was seeking her out.

“Isn’t it too early to visit her?” I asked, playing along so as not to frighten her.

“No, it’s the perfect time. No one will be there.” She was breathing heavily and her eyes were foggy. But every motion she made was sharp and jagged, defined like a short-circuiting robot.

“Can we go back to the house and have coffee first?” I asked. “Then we can get going to the hospital.”

Once we were back inside, my mother started to “come to.” The cloudiness lifted, replaced by a sharp confusion. In her land of patient visiting, she knew exactly where she was going. Now, back at my house, reality was nudging its way in and the scenarios didn’t match up.

I got her settled in bed and walked dazedly back to my own bedroom. Dan was waiting for me.

“I feel nothing.” I said.

“There is nothing to feel,” he said. “She is safe and that’s all that matters.”

But I felt it seven hours later.

I had finished my last job and was sitting in my car. Here it comes, I thought, as the wave of fear and grief washed away the shock, and exposed the naked feelings my mind was hiding from my heart.

I didn’t expect this. I thought ‘wandering’ would ignore my mother. I don’t know why. Perhaps because once that happens, there is no denying the disease. It is too grave and blatant a symptom.

Since that morning three weeks ago, my mother has attempted to leave the house one other time. She has a reindeer bell on her door to alert us if she leaves her room and we now turn on our alarm system as an added precaution. I’ll order an ID bracelet and have even considered making up a one sheet handout with my mother’s picture on it and stats to distribute throughout our neighborhood. Her doctor has increased her Seroquel at night to make the possibility of an early morning stroll less likely.

As for me, that day put me in a whole other realm of anxiety and depression and I still haven’t found my way out.


  1. Is that why you went on hiatus for awhile? If so, the fact that you're writing about it now shows that you are finding your way out. Hang in there!

  2. Been there done that. I am so sorry for you. And so happy you found her. We lost mom at the mall once. We sit her done at the table and went to the buffet to get her plate . And she was gone when we came back. My brother found her walking in the mall . She did not have a reason for leaving the resturant. Than my sister found her sitting on her front porch . My sister lives a few houses away from ours. We have no idea how long she was there. my sister is a day sleeper and I was at work. This was before we thought she needed 24/7 care. Than while my son was sitting with her . I was at work again. She just got up and went outside. Started walking down the street. Not in the direction of my sister's house. He had to fight her to get her to come home. She was in early stages to. We were lucky she did not get lost. Because it took us 3 times to realize it was time for 24/7 care. God Bless.

  3. A friend of mine ordered a bracelet for her husband. He was still driving at the time, and early one morning drove to Walmart. But once there, he had no idea of how to get home. Some kind person took him to the service desk and they called her to come and pick him up. The bracelet is a major help. Glad you're getting one.

  4. Karen, what I don't quite understand and I'll have to talk more to her doctor about it, is that I thought she would have been deeper in her Alzheimer's before this happened. I am just so surprised that it happened now. And I also wonder with what frequency I'll see this.

    Laura, the break from blogging happened right around the same time. I was getting overwhelmed and just wanted to run away from Alzheimer's for awhile. Or at least that part of it I could control, like writing about it.

    Nancy, yes, will definitely get bracelet. If she drove, I'd be a mess!

  5. Hi Lisa,

    What a gripping story. As soon as you mentioned the sound of the door, I suspected you Mom had taken a walk of some kind. It's a miracle you found her before she was injured in any way and it sounds like you handled it beautifully. What a shock that must have been; I can feel how it shook you at your core. It's understandable that you would think your mom would be "farther along" into her disease before something like this could happen. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I love your writing.

  6. Thank you Leslie...for your kind words and prayers. I feel very much these days like I can't get enough of them, the prayers that is :-)

  7. The bracelet is a good idea. Best if she can't easily take it off. Dad was known as Houdini. He could get out of anything. He once put a bar of soap in his shirt pocket and took off walking for home. Home, for him, was Alabama and he was in Texas. The police found him before we got too far and kept him safe until we got there to pick him up.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Oh Helen, I'm sorry. So many people have suffered with this disease.

  9. You poor thing, Lisa. Must be dreadful to have to deal with one more worry. I am almost thankful my father had trouble walking by the time he got to the stage when he wanted to wander off - shudder to think of the extra anxiety.
    Hang in there, Lisa, you are not alone. And you will make that trip to India someday.

  10. Lisa, my dad's mother was a wanderer too for many years before she got into deep Alzheimers. It started while she was still very alert and she was still driving! Nikki and I weren't much older than 7 or 8 and while we were aware the "Meem" had Alzheimer's we were too little to understand it. She'd show up at our school and tell us she was picking us up for the day, that it was her turn... it didn't take much to get us into the car-she was our Granmother and no one had told us we were not suposed to go with her...yet! On a few occasions she would take Nikki and I for long, long car rides, while our parents and grandfather would be panicked as to where the hell we were! The first time or two she would promise not to do it again and Nikki and I weren't told much because no one wanted to scare us from our grandmother. However, I remember the last trip vividly; she was trying to get on the highway on an off-ramp and as a tractor trailer was heading for us, she yelled at its driver (from the side off the road that God must have led us too) "Learn to drive!" Then she got back on the off ramp and actually made it up to the highway only realize she was going the wrong way and fortunatley the police showed up too! The Saints were truly protecting us that trip. After that we were told not to go with her and the nun's at school were told not to let het take us. It was a big turning point in things for her. She had also apparently "kidnapped" old friends and would drive them around for hours, scaring them with her incoherence. Halfway through any of her trips she would snap back into reality and have no clue what the hell was going on. Many of her "prisoners" felt too sorry for her to refuse her and even tell my Grandfather. It wasn't until she got really bad that they would later fess-up to my Grandfather or Dad about their trips.

    My grandparents always had his and her Cadilacs and she was so very proud and loved to drive, despite her advancing Alzheimers and her new penchant for kidnappping people. Nonetheless,she refused to give up her green Cadilac, it was a very sad, pathetic and necessary measure. One day she drove to the hair salon for an appointment and my grandfather and dad sent one of the guys up from the steel plant to pull some wires and "break" the car. When she came out of the salon she frantically called the office for my Grandfather that her car would not start, my Grandfather unable to go and deal with this (out of utter mand sheer sorrow) sent my Dad. He said it was the saddest thing to have to do--take away her freedom while she was still aware she had it. For months all she asked was "Where is my car? How long does it take for them to fix it?" Meanwhile the car was at the plant waititng to be sold. As sad as it was to take away her driving liberties and freedom, it was a huge sense of relief; no longer would she show-up at school and take me and Nicole, kidnap other elderly friends (worrying their families too), randomly show-up at our house demanding my mom go with her to see some friend that was long dead etc. The alarm company got to know my Grandfather very well from her trying to sneak out late at night and take his car, so he learned to hide the keys in every imaginable not-normal for hiding keys place you could think. Once she was contained everyone seemeed to relax because she was always accounted for. My Granfather hired a driver for her so she could still go out and she spent a few years like "Miss Daisy" being chaufeurred around town.
    Truthfully, as sad as her wandering, quasi-kidnapping, and hobnobbing with others against their will was, the saddest thing was when she stopped wanting to exert her independance and go visiting. As bitter sweet as this may sound be grateful because once the wandering seems to go away so does everythng else.

    Thank you writing another blog-I love them! I talked with my Mom yesterday and she was telling me how excited she was when she got the envelope filled with them from you. Thank you for that! :) Keep your spirits up!

  11. Oh Jackie. Thank you for sharing this story. And you wrote it so beautifully. What complicated emotions for all those involved. And I understand each and every one of them. Thank you my cousin.

  12. I, too, assumed my mom would not wander because she lived s fairly sedentary life. For her, it seemed anger or frustration would cause her to bold out of assisted living. And in her first nursing home, she sought an escape with regularity, so she got kicked out. Now that she is in an Alzheimer's-only facility, she never tries to leave. I hope the meds are helpful in keeping your mom asleep.

  13. I like your blog here Lisa, the look of it and the content. Thank you.

    I moved in with my Mom to do 24/7 care and as has been said in the AD world, if you know one person with AD you know one person. Everyone progresses differently and what is the norm today may not be tomorrow or even the next minute. Just when you think you have the new "normal" down, it skidders away from your grasp and control once again.

    I have had my heart stop cold when I came upstairs to find the house empty. I called the police, I got in the car and searched, I called the care home where my Mom had been to respite as I thought maybe she got confused and thought she should head back. Just when I got really scared and called the police, I hear the back door open. It was my Mom. When I asked, rather exasperated where she was (I didn't want her to get upset, it wasn't her fault) she said she was invited over the neighbors. I almost went nuclear. The neighbor KNEW my Mom had Alzheimer's but she wasn't smart enough to know what it meant. Later she told me that if my mother just prayed right to God that she would be cured. Yeah, yeah, my Mother may have had Alzheimer's but at least she had a reason for illogical behaviour.

    I hope you are doing as well as you can and I sure feel for you, all of you, your Mom, you and your hubby. Do what you need to in order to take the best care of YOU and your hubby and your Mom.

    I ended up collapsing from exhaustion as I was the only caregiver for Mom (I have a sibling) and she had to be placed in long term care. This disease is merciless.

    Much love to you all during this very difficult time,