Last Friday was an early release day for students followed by a wonderful potluck feast with faculty and staff followed by teacher staff development. Since the next day was to be Shelley's official day of graduation from Louisiana Tech, I planned a little celebration at our home for that Friday evening. I must explain the magnitude of this celebration because it was a long time coming! I know that many young adults graduate with their bachelor's degrees frequently, but Shelley's graduation is extra special.
Shelley graduated from high school in 2001 and like many of her classmates, she went off to college that first year. She loved her freshman year at Abilene Christian University, and she worked out a way to study abroad in Uruguay during her sophomore year. What a fabulous experience that was! Shelley had the opportunity to experience so much of South America during that semester and completed 16 hours toward her degree. The romantic atmosphere led to her eventual marriage to a young man she met on this study abroad. They married after their junior year at ACU, and like most students who marry during their college years, they promised to finish their degrees right away. However, both were somewhat immature, and when her husband joined the Air Force, he was away for training or deployments often. Of the four years they were married, they lived together for about one and a half years. After one of her husband's deployments, Shelley was faced with the death of her brother. He died in June 2007, and her husband was deployed again in August. In February, he called her one morning and said he wanted a divorce. Even though they probably would have had the same outcome eventually, Shelley had no say in the matter. This is the point where she lacked two classes to complete her degree, and she was faced with no income, a divorce, and she was still trying to handle her grief. The classes she lacked were math classes, and she had struggled with math since third grade.
Shelley had always been very close to my brother and his wife. During this tough time, we were watching my brother's struggle with stage four colon cancer, and in May of 2008, he was relieved of his pain while we experienced another loss in our family. This was another setback for Shelley - difficult to tackle those two classes of math when you're overwhelmed with grief. By the next school year in August, Shelley had been hired by our school district as a special education aide. She's worked hard and learned a great deal in this job, and she's also found her niche. She loves working with special needs children, and she is a natural with them. She also got back into having a social life, became involved in church activities, and met some of the greatest folks ever. Through all of this, she met Andrew, who became her husband in July of 2010. He loves the Lord, and he loves Shelley with all his heart. He's provided much needed stability and support for Shelley, and they've been great for each other. She also knew that in order to realize her goal of teaching, she had to complete her degree which meant facing those two math classes. She found a university that provides online courses accepted by Louisiana Tech. With a huge amount of support and help from my sister-in-law, Jerris, she finished the Algebra class in a month. The next challenge was statistics, and one of my assistant principals, Roby, tutored her through that one.
|Shelley and my mom.|
Every few years, I have a hankering to fix a big Thanksgiving feast, and that hankering presented itself this year. My parents would join us along with my sister and her family, and my sister-in-law and nephews. Shelley and Andrew were to spend the day at his parents this year. I love planning special meals like this, and I always make too much food, but we eat leftovers for days afterward. I was really happy to have the week off to prepare, and my parents came on Wednesday before, so we could take Mom to be fitted for a wig. She is rapidly losing her hair with her chemo treatments.
Mom and Dad got here Wednesday morning, and my sister, Leslie, joined us. Our first slight challenge was getting my dad to let me drive them to downtown Fort Worth. I've mentioned my dad's "memory issues" before, but we are beyond that at this point. Dad has dementia, and while I have a lot to say about that, I'll proceed with the Thanksgiving story. After some discussion, I was allowed to drive, and off we went to the American Cancer Society where we found a lovely wig and hat for my mom. From there I took them to Paris Coffee Shop for a yummy lunch, and we had a delightful time. With each stop, my dad would hold out his hand for me to hand the keys back to him. After lunch we went back to my house where Shelley was baking and preparing dinner for all of us that evening. Dad was pleasant and joined in our conversations throughout the afternoon. Later in the evening, when it was just Mom, Dad, Billy, and me, Dad asked Mom to come back to the bedroom. I didn't pay a lot of attention to it, but a few minutes later, as he sat on the couch with me, he started going through his wallet. He looked at my mom and said, "Are you coming?" This is the point where I realized that Dad was sundowning. He does this pretty often, but Mom has little opportunity to tell me what is happening because Dad is always by her side.
Mom told him she was not going to leave, and Dad said he was going back to the hotel. I tried to talk to him about how he had planned to stay the night - that was why he had packed his clothes and medicine. Dad went out to the car, and I followed him. He was unreasonable, argumentative, and he was determined that he was leaving. I managed to text my sister and told her to come right away. She thought maybe bringing her little ones over would offer a diversion, so I got Dad back into the house by telling him that Claire and Connor were coming over to see him. The diversion worked for 10 minutes maybe, and we were back at it. Mom agreed to talk to Dad out in the car, and we kept checking to see if everything was okay. Eventually, we heard a car door close, and Mom was headed back into the house. We thought Dad was behind her when we heard his car starting, and he was leaving. Dad depends on Mom to tell him how to get places. He gets lost unless she tells him where to turn, and then sometimes, he argues with her and ignores what she says. Mom assured us he would probably go around the block and come back, but my sister decided to follow him. Mom said she would go, too, but by the time they got in the car and left, they couldn't see him. At this point it was a little after 9:00 p.m.
We waited an hour, Mom called the police, and Leslie and I drove for about an hour looking for a needle in a haystack. The police came to the house and took a report, and we waited. Mom called her house constantly after about 2 hours. The drive from our house to theirs usually takes 90 minutes, and that's where we assumed he was headed. During all of this, Billy was very sweet and pretty calm. God takes care of those things. We settled in, Leslie went back to her house, and we went to bed. Mom knew she wouldn't sleep much. The officer who had taken the report was to call her back before he went off duty at 1:00 a.m. He called at 12:30 and again at 2:30, and Mom continued to call her house throughout the night.
On Thanksgiving morning, Mom was up and dressed early. I asked her what she wanted to do about lunch. We could postpone, cancel, or just go on. She felt we should go ahead and we would figure it out as we went. She called the police again and was told a detective would be assigned to the case by the end of the day, and that person would make the decision on a Silver Alert. She called the Corsicana police and made a report. They went to the house to see if he might be there, and they called her back to say they found no one there. I continued preparing lunch, but I had lost my motivation. I sent texts to some of my close friends and asked them to pray fervently for Dad's safety and his return home. I asked God to keep him safe from all that can happen to an elderly man with dementia who trusts people to be good. Through all of this my mom remained a pillar of strength, walking through each step, never breaking down. Some people tell me that I am a strong woman, and I've had this type of example throughout my life. I could write a book about my mom's strength and faith, and some day I hope to do that.
Around 12:30, my mom made her regular call to the house, and my dad answered! What a faithful God! He told her he had been there for about 20 minutes, and I heard Mom tell him NOT to come get her. We ate a quick huge lunch, and Leslie and I took Mom back to Corsicana with Mom calling Dad every half hour to make sure he stayed home. When we got to the house, we sat down to talk to Dad for a while. Mom asked that we not get him upset again, so there was no mention of his need to stop driving. Leslie and I went out to check the car for dents or cracks - nothing we could see. She found three maps that people had drawn for Dad at various places he had asked for help. She looked at the caller id, and she found three numbers of people in the metroplex who had phoned their house. Dad told us he was tired after driving for 15 hours. He mentioned the other people who were with him - hallucinations or delusions. He mentioned Austin (one map showed how to get back to Hwy. 281), Abilene (one map showed how to get from Weatherford to Corsicana), and he said he tried to call the house several times and Mom never answered. She kept telling him that she was at my house, and it never seemed to register with him. He had talked about the event he attended being really boring, and that everyone had to share the phone, so they only got a few seconds to talk. I believe he did drive for 15 hours, and it looks like he went to Austin, back up to Weatherford (probably seeing signs that mentioned Abilene), and then back to the metroplex. The phone calls from the metroplex were every half hour starting at 6:30 a.m.
There is no question about Dad's dementia being worse. The question is what has to be done from this point. My personality wants to take over, and I have to rein it in a bit. Mom has to make these decisions. She is overwhelmed with Dad's condition, a cancer diagnosis, and now dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy. Dementia has affected Dad differently than it has Billy. It's changed his good nature, and he's angry often. Billy gets out of sorts, but he's pretty compliant. Please pray for clarity of decisions for my mom, for her strength and health, and for my dad.
I apologize for the length of this post, but I couldn't abbreviate it. I find it all important to define the state we are in. Praise God for his protection and for getting Dad home safely. I spoke to one of the men whose number we found on Mom and Dad's house phone. He said he couldn't tell that Dad had dementia. Dad can still get through social situations like Billy can. Have I mentioned lately that I hate Alzheimer's, dementia, and all related diseases? It steals the people we love.
Thank you for caring, praying, and reading.