I really can’t do justice to this story because I am still processing it. It has particular meaning for me because my father suffered from age-related dementia.
This morning after I returned from errands, I went to M’s house to help trim trees and shrubs. There were several of us so we made quick work of the project, but while loading branches on the truck we noticed an elderly woman walking a dog across M’s lawn. We thought she must live nearby, or that she was visiting someone in the neighborhood. It was a warm morning with the sun beating down on the pavement. The woman and her dog, a Welsh corgi, looked very hot, and both attempted to take refuge in the shade of the shrubs. We persuaded her to sit on a lawn chair in the garage while M. brought water for the woman and her faithful canine. B. told us her name and address, but informed us that she did not want to go home. She had “escaped” and wanted to stay with her new friends. At that point we didn’t know what to think. Was it a case of alzheimers (yes, probably)? Was there a possibility of elder abuse? She looked healthy, well-cared for, and nicely groomed, so we didn’t think so. But we wanted to do the right thing.
What to do? After making sure that B. was hydrated and felt safe, I sat with her in the cool of the garage while the others went inside to make phone calls. As we talked, I could see the gentle soul behind her clear blue eyes. B told me that shortly after she was born, her father had deserted his family. As a result, they went to live with B’s maternal grandparents. She spoke lovingly of her grandfather’s gentle smile and quick wit, but recalled her grandmother as quite stern. B. told me of dating her husband in high school, “the first mistake,” but then quickly retracted that statement. She harbored no ill will against him, but was tired of his dictating her every move. “I have a mind too,” she declared. “I’m an adult, and quite capable of taking care of myself.” B. spoke with pride about her work as a test technician at the local university, and of the care she took to ensure that everything was done accurately and on time. When I asked about her hobbies, she lit up like a Christmas tree. “I love to sew!” B. also told me of her love of candy…all kinds, and was proud that she still has all of her teeth in spite of it. I wished I had some to share with her.
As we talked, B. saw a car turn down the street and said “I think I’ve been found out!” When it pulled into a neighboring garage, she relaxed again and continued telling stories until a police car drove up. She was not pleased to see the young officer walking up the driveway, but greeted him politely and patiently responded to his questions. “Do you know your address?” “Do you take your dog for a walk everyday?” “Would you like me to drive you home?”
I played the role of the listener, appreciative and nonjudgmental. After B. responded to each series of the patient officer’s queries, she would look at me and say: “See, he’s testing me. I’ve answered all of his questions, and I’m not crazy.” B. reiterated that she did not want to go home, but when the officer asked if it would be okay for her husband to pick her up she thought a few seconds before replying. “Tell him I am with a friend, and he can come for me at 4:30.” At that time, it was noon, and I was sitting on a concrete floor!
Thankfully, the officer signaled his partner, and he left to notify B’s husband of her whereabouts. A short while later B’s husband pulled into the driveway. The corgi took one look at the car and trotted toward it tail wagging and leash dragging behind. He was ready ready to go home even if B was not. Realizing her visit was over, B’s good manners kicked in and she graciously thanked us for our hospitality and expressed hope that we would see one another again. “But not too soon!” she said with a wink as she climbed into the car.