Travels with Dad
—-This is a story of a complex relationship with my father, Al, who I came to love and understand after he was diagnosed with dementia.—-
My mother retired from a job she loved as an EEO counselor for the Federal Government in November, 1999. Her retirement was out of a need to be more present to Dad, who was declining cognitively. His need for supervision increased, as his judgment and safety awareness decreased. The people she worked with knew Al, because he also retired from the same place. They were sad about AL’s condition, and fully understood Mom’s decision. This was a sad time for her on many levels.
After she retired, Al continued to leave home every day on his own, as he had been doing for years. Aside from a history of running out of gas, and driving to familiar places without a purpose, it appeared that he was holding his own behind the wheel and on the roads. Until one day…
About a month after Mom retired, Dad came home from wherever he was, and was visibly shaken. With arms flailing descriptively to support his story, he said to my mother “Geeze, I went here and I went there, and then there and then here…” explaining his confusing ride home. Mom said he was so relieved to have made it home. This incident, however, ended his driving days. Mom confiscated his keys, and they “disappeared” forever. He never drove again.
This didn’t mean though, that he remembered his” lost” adventure and how much it upset him. The very next day, he found what he thought were keys, and went out to the garage to start the car. He worked on it for about 15 minutes, to no avail. He decided to ask Mom for help. He came into the kitchen and handed her a pair of nail clippers and said, “I’m having trouble starting the car! I need help!” She took the nail clippers from him and “Sorry, I can’t help you. Go find something else to do.”
The end of AL’s driving was an especially difficult transition for both of them. For my mother, this emphasized the realization of another significant loss. It also translated in an obvious need to be more vigilant in her supervision of him. Gosh, if he had trouble finding his way home…..to the home he lived in for over 30 years, she thought, what other errors in judgment could this translate into. This loss also meant that she now had the role of being the sole driver.
For Al, losing his freedom and ability to go whenever and wherever he wanted, faded away. It was what he loved to do…..it was what made him tick. He was now “grounded”.