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Archive for the ‘Lost’ Category

man lost in woods
People with Alzheimers may wander away, never to be seen again.

A while back I wrote for the magazine section of our local newspaper’s  Sunday edition, aptly titled “Brightside.”  

The articles were to be just that: bright and happy stories, good-news stories about people; what they were doing, interesting hobbies or talents, about gardens – either beautifully filled with flowers or vegetables, do-it-yourself projects or whatever was out there to make someone smile.  The section was all about people found to be on the “Brightside” of life.

 

It was before conglomerates gobbled up all of the family-owned newspapers pulling them into vast impersonal syndications buying most of their stories from a news service.  It was a less-hurried time when people actually read the bulging paper tossed on their front porch.

One of the very interesting people who appeared in the section was a librarian whose career spanned most of her adult life.  It wasn’t until she was in her later years that she decided to become a writer.  Surrounded by books all day, every day she knew where the “holes” were on the shelves.  Time after time children came up to her desk and asked about bugs.  Search though she did, there were no books about bugs for children. Finding a “hole” she began to fill it.

Doing her own research through adult scientific material, she translated the intricate entomology facts into “kid” stuff.  Successfully, she wrote, while the publisher’s artist illustrated, a series of charming children’s books about bugs.  Someone tagged her The Bug Lady.

Our editor thought her a delightful prospect for a Brightside article.  We writers all wanted the assignment, but it went to someone other than me who happened to be one of her friends.  Several of us got to meet this self-made bug expert who did look like a story-book librarian.  Wrapped in a warm cardigan sweater, a plain skirt, sensible shoes and very thick glasses she made all who met her feel like a child gaining knowledge as she shared her story.  She mentioned that her books didn’t make her very much money, but it was something she loved doing, and better than money her reward came as she watched the wide-eyed children smile and marvel at the informative, colorful books she helped create.

When we met, The Bug Lady was near retirement and ready for the change it would bring to her life.  She and her husband lived locally in a modest home, and soon settled into the comforts of just being themselves without the pressures of going to work each day.  Brightside ran the article and we writers found other people with interesting stories to tell.

Several years later I read about her again in the newspaper.  This time it was sad and shocking.  The Bug Lady had contracted Alzheimer’s.  Understanding the disease as I do now, it must have been a rapid decline for her because she was still very physically active and when she walked, some of her friends stated, she walked very fast.  Somehow, she had left her home and disappeared.   My friend and I went to visit with her grief-stricken husband to see if there was any way we could help.  Teary-eyed he could only relate what he knew.  She was gone.  There was a short blurb about her disappearance on TV news and a few continuing articles in the paper, but there was never a hint to her whereabouts – missing without a trace.  What could possibly be worse than having Alzheimer’s?  Having AD and disappearing never to be seen again.

During the past seven-plus years I have been thankful that Ken didn’t wander, but just because wandering wasn’t part of his habits didn’t mean that he might not scurry off if given the opportunity – not so much an opportunity – but a reason.  One night, a few years ago he had both.  After dinner with our friend Jayne, he and I headed for our car.  It was very dark, but Jayne followed us out to say goodnight.  I opened the car door and climbed into the driver’s seat, and then reached across to unlock the other door so Ken could get in.  Jayne and I talked for a few moments and when I turned to see if Ken was settled in, I was stunned to see he wasn’t there.  Leaping out of the car I looked up and down the driveway.  He was gone.  Apparently, with my quick disappearance into the car in the surrounding darkness, he must have forgotten where he was and, I suppose, began looking for me.  Glancing around I could see him walking quickly down the sidewalk as if he had some place urgent to go.  Already a good 200 feet away he was headed in the direction of a main thoroughfare with bright lights and activity.   I ran after him calling his name.  Still, he didn’t stop.  Instead he seemed to pick up speed hurrying toward the intersection.  Reaching him I grabbed his sleeve commanding loudly, “Ken, stop!”  “What?” he questioned in return, looking at me in surprise.  “Come back and get into the car so we can go home,” I prompted.  He asked where the car was as I turned him around so we could walk in the right direction.  Grumbling and complaining he came with me as I ushered him into the passenger seat making sure the seat belt was buckled.  “Goodnight, Jayne,” I called.  She waved and went into the house.

The experience had been a bit disconcerting, but because I could see him I didn’t panic, and he had a distance to go before he came to the intersection so there was no immediate danger.  The incident, though, taught me a good lesson: make sure he gets into the car, especially realizing how quickly he could have vanished into the dark night.

When Ben came as his caregiver, security at our house became even better than it had been before, and while Ken’s strength is now at a point where I doubt he would get very far before having to sit down and rest we don’t take chances with the outside doors which are double locked with us holding all the keys.

What could be more terrifying or devastating, more heart-wrenching or guilt-ridden to a family than having their loved one who is stricken with any of the Dementia-related illnesses lost in a confusing, often cruel and sometimes evil world?  At times I have wondered if Ben wasn’t being too careful about the doors always being double-locked, but then I tell myself that double locks are a good thing remembering the old saying, “Better safe than sorry.”

Photo courtesy of  http://www.flickr.com/photos/mysza/

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lost shoe

Like a long lost shoe, Alzheimer's patients often feel lonely, lost and abandoned.

“Good grief,” confessed my neighbor Ruth many years ago,  “I forgot Laurie at Mayfair’s.”  It was a few days after the fact that she mustered up enough courage to tell me she had forgotten her child while shopping at one of those supermarkets where there was a built-in Kiddie Korral, a special fenced-in corner of the store where you could leave your children for a few minutes, withour worry, while picking up groceries.  More often than not Ruth went shopping by herself, leaving the younger children with her oldest daughter, who was more than capable of keeping an eye on her younger siblings.  All of the little ones had enjoyed a few stays in the Korral, and if they caught mom heading out to buy groceries, they pleaded to go along.

“Oh please,” Laurie had begged, “Can I come with you – pleeeeease?”  How could Ruth resist such coaxing?   Laurie climbed into the car with her mother and off they went, the little girl being more excited about her visit to the Kiddie Korral than spending some one-on-one time with her mother.  Absorbed in the picture books and surrounding toys,  Laurie didn’t notice the time passing, nor did she notice her mother push the grocery cart past the fun-filled corner and out through the open glass doors of the supermarket.  Nor did Ruth remember she had brought one of her children.

“Where’s Laurie?” asked Jackie, helping her mother carry in the groceries. “Did you forget her at the store?” she joked.  That was the moment of truth.  Ruth leaped into the car and raced back to Mayfair’s. There was Laurie still looking at pictures from the pile of selected books next to her chair.  “Time to go,” said Ruth, relieved to find the little girl safe and sound just where she had left her.  For Laurie there was no trauma and no feeling she had been forgotten, much less abandoned, nor would she be scarred for life from the experience. However, Ruth wasn’t alone is losing a child.

One year we lost our three-year-old son, Kevin, at the county fair.  He didn’t want to be in the stroller, so I pushed his empty vehicle while he held his father’s hand.  Feeling independent, he soon insisted on walking alone, and when his sisters, Ken and I turned to go into an exhibit, Kevin kept going straight.  Within seconds we realized he was gone, and he was – disappeared from sight – and so quickly.  After minutes of searching and not finding any trace of him in the crowd, terrible visions began entering our minds.  Immediately we found the sheriff’s office and reported our missing son. “Wait here,” the deputy suggested, “We’ll find him.”

It wasn’t like Ruth leaving Laurie, she was pretty certain she knew where to find her little girl. We did not.  Our child was lost in a world filled with strangers – and they could be dangerous strangers.  My little boy was alone and frightened somewhere out there.  We were near panic.  It seemed like forever before another deputy appeared before us holding our crying and frightened child, his precious face streaked with smudged tears, his small arms stretching forward to me as we both sobbed; Kevin’s tears from being lost, my tears because he was found and safe in my arms.  “No need for positive identification,” said the sergeant in charge. “Looks like she’s the mother.”

Ruth, nor I, nor Ken, were bad parents, neither were the number of other friends we knew who had misplaced, lost or forgotten one of their children during those years of transition from toddler to an independent human being, especially in a large family. Fortunately, all of our lost children were found.

One couple we know drove 50 miles before they realized their small son was not in Uncle John’s car, but back at the dam.  The return trip was a little frantic, but Steven was safe  in the capable care of the park rangers even though he probably felt lost, abandoned and fearful.  Another family outing involving multiple cars arrived home, hours away from their excursion site, before they realized one little boy was still at the aquarium in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  A quick phone call and Uncle Gene who lived in the City came to his rescue, once again finding the lost child safe with aquarium staff.

Those desperate emotions are always within us and rise to the surface when we feel threatened; possibly in preparation for our own defense.   I suppose they belong to the “Fear Family,” often made worse when fear itself is mixed with believing you are alone and lost.  However, with a diseased mind, those same fears of emptiness and desperation can be a constant in addition to other instinctive feelings that bring unimagined misery to the mindless.  Is it any wonder they can rage, become angry and combative?  Occasionally, I look into Ken’s eyes and see fear and entrapment.  I understand how frightening life can be for AD victims when there is no reasoning power to comfort their own confused state.  Reassurance, however, can come from someone else or something: a familiar voice, a caring touch, pleasant music, soft words, company and many other soothing actions or words.

A few weeks ago I walked through our living room on my way to do a few quick errands.  Ken was sitting comfortably in a chair with Ben beside him.

“Where are you going,” Ken asked.

“I have to go to the bank, I’ll be back soon.”

“No, you won’t” he retorted.

Once again I pled my case, “I’ll be right back – really I will.”

“You’re just saying that,” he insisted.  “You won’t ever come back.”

I looked into his handsome face.  Written clearly was that look of abandonment.  Incredible sadness filled his eyes and demeanor.   I felt astonished to read him so well.  I could see the disappointment, the sorrow, the acceptance of my leaving forever as I moved toward the door.  He was convinced that I wouldn’t be coming back.  I was leaving him alone – abandoning him – in his immediate need for comfort and assurance.

“I can do this tomorrow,” I said to Ben, removing my coat and putting my purse aside.  Ken said nothing more as I sat down, but his face showed relief.  Did he know me?  Was he having a Ken moment?  I don’t know the answers.  What I do know is that for a brief period of time he wanted me nearby.  He wanted that feeling of security — to be with someone familiar — even vaguely familiar.  In much the same way as my three-year-old son had buried his wet face in my shoulder, his arms desperately clinging to my neck Ken too wanted to feel safe, knowing that he was found.  This I could give him with my presence.  Even if it lasted for only a little while, I wanted him to be comforted in that moment knowing he had not been abandoned.

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