Dementia R Us

“I think he’s waiting for me to tell him it’s OK to die.”

Her father, in a nursing home near London, had taken a turn and was now on the edge of life.  My friend, Susie, was booking a flight, talking with relatives, mourning both her father’s imminent passing and the fact that she had moved an ocean away from one man she loved to make a life with another.

There are so few things a friend can do at a time like this.

“I’ll be glad to take you to the airport,” I offered.



She shared the flight information and we determined that a 4PM pick-up would get her there in plenty of time for a 7PM international flight.

“Do you need directions to the house?”

“Heavens, no.  I’ve been there two or three times already.” Both were with the use of a GPS, a technology I quietly scorn, since we lose our sense of the big picture when we rely on this street to street analysis that nurses a driver from point A to point B. Nonetheless I was confident I could  find her home within the big picture.

Susie lives in  ruralish, small town, about 40 minutes away from me, and is on a prominent street just off the main drag, Route 1 A. This would be a piece of cake. I saddled up the Prius at 3:10 and headed north.  An unexpected festival in the next town added 10 minutes to the drive, but, grinning to myself, noted that i’d already made accommodation for something like that.

Aren’t I the best planner!

Then I started thinking about a wonderful ice cream store that I thought was on that route. If I made good enough time, a scoop of mocha chip was in my future. Got past the festival traffic and headed into the next town, Beverly, from which there are two routes north.  Drove over to 1A and continued the journey, my mind split between Susie’s hard journey, and the joy of mocha chip ice cream.  Hit the next town and my internal monologue started:

Does she live in Hamilton or Wenham? I mused  They are sister towns.  Where is the ice cream store?  Where is the street they live on? It was always so evident when I drove here before.It’s a sizable street on the left at a turn.  Yes?  Maybe the ice cream shop is on the other road north?  Maybe her home is really near the other path where the ice cream shop is.

I continued on 1A, not seeing the street.

Where is her street? Something is wrong. I should have hit it by now.

I am craning my neck to read every street sign, and trying to recall road markers from the other journeys.  With the GPS on, I wasn’t noticing little things.

Oh shit, where is her street?

I began to sweat. A sign in road said I was entering Ipswich.

Shit Shit Shit, I have passed her town, her street!

My watch said 4 PM.  Miss Overconfidence did not bring either Susie’s phone number or street address. I pull over and call directory assistance.  They had no one by the name I gave, in either Hamilton or Wenham.

OMG What is her husband’s last name?  She is waiting.  Her father is waiting.  Her family is waiting.  

Now the tears start.

She is going to miss being at her dying father’s bedside because of my incompetence and stupidity. Why didn’t I bring her phone number and street address?  I can’t even use the GPS if I want to.

I start screaming and hitting myself as punishment.

You are going to screw up someone else’s life completely.  Her sister, everyone is waiting.  She already has enough anxiety.  You are stupid stupid stupid.  Is it off the other road north? Maybe it’s off the other road.

I convince myself that this is the wrong road, and that both her home and the ice cream shop is off the other road north out of Beverly.  Anyone glancing into the car would assume it was my father dying.

Visualize! Visualize!  No, you have been there, you know it’s here.  What’s the street name?

Cherry is what comes to mind, and usually, without editing that type of retrieval, from even an aging, stupid, rotting brain is pretty good.

I pull over and ask a man mowing his lawn if he knows where Cherry St. is.  No, he doesn’t, but admits he has only been in the area for a year.

Oh G-d!

One always calls upon their deity at times like this.  Deities must grow weary of these limited relationships!

Maybe this is the wrong path.  Maybe this is the Twilight Zone and I am not meant to get there and her life is doomed for misery and chaos based on my incompetence.  By the time I get home and fetch her number and address it will be too late. She will never forgive me, and no reason she should. 

Now, I am shaking, and must look like an escapee from a state mental institution.  (Private homes, keep their clients looking better than I did at that moment.) I pull into a gas station.

Take a deep breath, so as not to frighten to innocent, and ask men gassing up their cars if they know where Cherry Street is, Hamilton or Wenham.

“Yeah, it’s about 3 miles that way and there’s a big white church at the corner.”

I only semi believe him, but drive like a bat out of hell, not an easy task in a Prius.

One white church… no Cherry St.  Second white church, nirvana, Cherry Street!  I swing the right.

I will have forgotten the house.  Why did I think I would remember?  I am over 65, I have no brain left.  This is the Twilight zone.  Oh G-d, please don’t let me screw up her mortal journey. 

The house has a semi circle drive.  It’s past a lot of foresty land…. You won’t pass it.  You’ll pass it!  I’m a Great friend eh!

Susie was standing outside, phone in hand, scanning for me. I screeched into the driveway, apologizing profoundly as we loaded the car and checked my watch, 4:10.

We got to the airport with enough bumper time for her to consume a 3 course meal and get through the zen experience of a homeland security check, but I was still shaken.  Reviewing the debacle, realized that I had simply over shot the turn, forgetting that it occurred quickly after entering Wenham, the first of the sister towns.  All the rest, the fear of making the wrong choice, the  literal and emotional collateral, the acceptance of my full blown dementia, was all my creation.  Dante has nothing on me!

Next time, I will not have the hubris to leave home without phone numbers and street addresses.  As for the GPS, I will use it less, and ask my brain to envision the big picture more. Evidently it could use the exercise. Oh yes, and try to practice a little self compassion.

Postscript:  Susie got to London and her father’s bedside. She read aloud his poetry and TS Eliot. She said he was calm, peaceful and unresponsive, but she swears he heard. At 5 PM she told that it was OK to leave. At 8, he was gone.

3 Responses to Dementia R Us

  1. Hi Judith, Boy can I relate. I too become unanchored when lost and crash into self deprecation way too fast. My go-to feeling is also The Twilight Zone. It could have been a lot worse than 10 minutes! You could have had a shamfully dripping mocha chip cone on your blouse!