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.—-
It was early in the evening in late November, and things were routinely unfolding at Mom and Dad’s…until the phone rang. It was Cha Chi, the guy who owned the used car lot at the end my parent’s road. He explained to my mother that Dad was sitting in one of his cars shivering, and wouldn’t get out. He went on to describe how Dad had been found by a couple who stopped to look at some cars after hours, saw my father, and immediately called the number on the business sign to alert the owner.
Cha Chi, not knowing it was my father from the phone call, immediately called the police. He met the officer at the lot, peered into the car, and recognized my father. Cha Chi and the officer tried everything they could to get Al out of the car, but he wouldn’t budge. He was shaking, and visibly upset. Their plan was to get him to safety as soon as possible, but it wasn’t working.
Without further delay, Cha Chi called my mother to let her know what was going on. She was not even aware that he was missing. She grabbed her coat and ran down the road to help. Dad was noticeably relieved to see her and willingly got out of the car. His color was grey, he moved slowly, and he seemed more confused than usual.
The call to Mom from Cha Chi was a shock! Since she wasn’t aware that Al had left, she couldn’t figure out how long he had been gone. She surmised that it was at least a few hours. She thought she had heard him rummaging around upstairs, like he often did. He liked to putter, and often kept himself occupied when he wasn’t watching TV.
While Dad was home warming up, Mom called me to tell me what had happened. As she told me the story, I needed to sit down. My mind was racing with “what if’s.” We went back and forth about how he might have gotten out without her knowing, why he decided to leave, why he chose to get in one of the cars, and most importantly, how was it possible that two people stopped to look at used cars in the dark, after hours.
We contemplated answers to all of these questions.
- He got out without her knowing because she couldn’t watch him every second of every day.
- He probably left because he wanted to go “home.” He often stood in the middle of the kitchen in the evening saying that he wanted to go home.
- He got into the car because he was cold, and was looking for shelter.
- He was found by the car shoppers because of divine intervention.
We’ve talked about that incident many times. We put it on the table that if those people hadn’t stopped, it would have been several more hours before she figured out that he was not home. The call to 911 and the search would have begun, and it was more than likely that the searching would have been focused on looking for him on foot, either on the roadways or at convenience stores. The searching efforts would have most likely skipped over the used car lot. It wouldn’t have been a logical place to look, and because it was dark, he wouldn’t have been easily spotted. We talked about the fact that he would have been found the next day by Cha Chi, and he wouldn’t have been alive.
It was painful to consider all of the “what if’s”. But it was also necessary to contemplate them in order to have a full understanding of the scope of the thankfulness that we felt.