Never Goodbye

Navigating the Journey through Dementia

When I first arrived at the nursing home, Dad was busily wheeling around in his wheelchair, using his feet to move forward. He got a bit of exercise that way and certainly a substantial change in scenery. The first moment I arrived, other than greeting me with a big “Hello Lyn!” and a smile, he scarcely stopped for a visit. I had to tag along if I was going to visit because he obviously had traveling plans. So I wheeled him throughout the very large nursing home, and at every door, he would push to see if he could open it. It is a locked facility for just such reasons, and you need to punch in a security code to exit certain areas. He knew the doors wouldn’t acquiesce, but gave them a perfunctory push just the same.

Each day fell into a familiar pattern, except for the day we went to the dentist. It was quite cold in Alabama. I did not want to expose him to the harsh winter weather. However, widening Dad’s horizons beyond the sequestered Alzheimer’s Unit seemed to satisfy his wanderlust.

The last day of my visit, I saw my son Brad crouched down beside Dad’s wheelchair. He was chatting with Dad as Dad busily rattled the rail on the door, seeing if by some fluke the door would open for him.

He had never been so intent on getting out as he was this last visit. I suppose I should have foreseen this change. I know wandering is a symptom of his condition, and in our daily phone chats he had mentioned several times that he was trying to decide where to go. One day he told me he wasn’t sure if he would stay there or go home. When I asked which home he was going to, he wasn’t able to answer and returned to stating the problem over and over several times. I just acknowledged that he seemed quite busy and had some big decisions to make. He liked that and appeared to be savoring his problem.

Everyone needs a good problem to chew on once in awhile. It gives your life significance and lends importance to activities. You see, what the problem is, is quite irrelevant–just so you have one. If you add to your problem “places to go and people to see,” you have a recipe for entertainment. So my little dad was just a bundle of entertainment this trip, having moved beyond a more sedentary existence as he became a “traveling man.”