My Mom called a few minutes before seven o’clock. “I think I need your help,” she said.
Within three minutes, I was on my bicycle, headed towards downtown Kent to look for my Dad. Apparently, they had pulled up to the Erie Street Kitchen to pick up some food. And in the time that my Mom had reached down to find her purse and pull out the credit card to pay for the take-out, my Dad put on his coat and started briskly walking east on Erie Street. Even though my Mom noticed and tried yelling for him to come back, he was already out of earshot. She has enough mobility issues from her Multiple Sclerosis that she wasn’t able to physically pursue him, herself.
My Dad’s behavior was concerning because he’s been getting more and more confused, lately. Over the weekend, he temporarily forgot who my Mom was. He was still able to acknowledge that “Jan is the boss.” But he wasn’t able to make the connection that my Mom is Jan. He worried about conspiracies: something about a whispered conversation between a pen and a dish towel. And he kept seeing people who weren’t there. A lot of the disturbing trends I’ve been noticing with my Dad’s Parkinson’s Disease were amplified and multiplied.
So when I rolled up to the scene, I told my Mom to keep waiting there in case Dad came back. But I would go looking for our runaway. I trawled up and down Erie Street, peering into the brightly-illuminated windows of every café and shop. I went up and down Water Street, looking for any sign of my Dad — and at one point, I darted across traffic when I saw an older gentleman on the opposite sidewalk. But it wasn’t him. I continued my search up and down Main Street.
And then my Mom called.
She had just gotten off the phone with the police. Fortunately, my Dad had wandered into their downtown station. And they were taking care of him until we could come and get him. I helped guide my Mom to the police station parking lot and told her I’d go in to get him. Dad was trembling in the waiting area, holding onto a Styrofoam cup of water. He was physically unharmed. But still pretty shaken up by the experience. He couldn’t explain why he had walked away from Mom and the minivan. But as soon as he realized he was lost, he proved himself surprisingly capable of finding his way to the police station (though this involved crossing a busy four-lane road). Together, my Dad and the police were able to figure out how to reach my Mom by telephone. So everything turned out all right.
Still, the whole experience felt like a wake-up call. It was the classic family runaway story, except our roles were reversed. The father was the runaway; the son was the one “worried sick,” frantically searching everyone for him. This is a new phase of life that only seems to be getting deeper and harder: caring for aging parents. I know I’m not the first to deal with these dynamics. But it still feels scary and unfamiliar. It’s one thing to read about such situations, or to hear about friends overcoming these challenges. It’s another thing to live it out in everyday life. I’m comforted to remember similar learning curves with marriage… and parenting… and moving… and starting new jobs… I’m hopeful that I’ll figure things out, with the help of God, and family, and friends. But at the moment, I feel like I’m in over my head.
So if you think about it, please pray for me. And for my Mom. And my Dad. We don’t want to run away from this challenge. Even if it means we do sometimes have to deal with a runaway.