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“They left, where could they have gone?” I asked myself. I was ten years old standing in a campground at Indiana Dunes State Park. I was standing at what had been our campsite for the previous week, but it was now vacant. As I turned in a circle questioning myself, I recognized the neighboring campers we had befriended. Somewhat confident, I decided to sit on the picnic table and wait for my family to return.
Our family, my parents, three brothers, and I had arrived a few days before to camp, hike, and swim in Lake Michigan. We were experienced campers and my twin brother, and I were experienced “explorers,” Immediately upon arrival at any campsite, we would jump from the 1963 Chevy station wagon and begin to scout the surrounding area. In a while, we would return to report our findings. By then Dad and the older brothers would have set up the campsite and be resting in lawn chairs.
We would bring the scouting report to our father who was entertained by our quick assessment of the area along with our highlights of the features we liked best. It was a time when children were safe, and parents could allow them to roam a bit.
On the first day, while wandering a short distance from our campsite, we discovered a sign pointing toward the beach. We trekked the trail to a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. What laid ahead of us was magnificent sand and water. Twenty stories below us, beyond a mountain of sand, the waves rolled against the beach.
Excited, we ran down the hill and even rolled part of the way. We discovered returning was much more difficult. Trudging upwards in the sand while barefoot was exhausting. But that week we made the trip to the beach many times.
We had a blast of a week and were disappointed to leave on our last day. Mother yielded to our begging and agreed to allow us one more late morning swim. She instructed us, Dad and she would drive down to the beach and pick us up as they left the park.
For some reason that I can no longer recall, my twin brother and I decided to return to the camp early. Leaving our older brothers behind on the beach, we began the arduous climb. About three-quarter of the way to the top my brother turned and yelled something I didn’t understand while he was running away. Though I peered through squinting eyes, I could make out nothing without my glasses. I later learned he had seen our parents’ station wagon and camping trailer and hurried back.
Not wanting to waste so much effort, I continued the short distance to the top and happily strolled down the trail toward the campground. Upon arriving,, I discovered it vacant. So, there I sat on the picnic table waiting for my parents to return.
Soon after that, the campsite neighbors realized my predicament and began to question me. After explaining my decision to await my family, they came up with a better plan (So they thought). The wife encouraged her husband to take me to the ranger station to report me as lost. I wasn’t lost. I knew where I was, I just didn’t know where my family had gone. But, being a child, I yielded to the adult plan.
The well-intentioned camper drove me to the ranger station where he left me. So, there I stood wearing only my swimming suit in front of the large window. I stared hopefully at the road that passed between the campground and the beach. After a while, being only ten years old, I began to question whether I would ever be retrieved.
“What would become of me?” I wondered. I could visualize our ’63 Chevy station wagon and travel trailer zooming further away toward home while I stood helplessly in this strange place. I could almost hear my father saying philosophically, “Well, I’m glad we have three other boys.” I supposed my mother responded wistfully, “Maybe we should have looked a little longer.”
But then, I saw the Chevy wagon approaching! I ran to catch them before they passed. When I passionately yelled, Dad braked hard. He heard me through the open window of the not air-conditioned vehicle. I opened the door and jumped inside. Once I realized I was safe the fears left, and relief swept through me. For the first time since lost, I began to cry. My brothers teased me, and my mother told them to hush as she comforted me.
When I think of the emotions of the day, it makes me empathize with someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease. So often they want to go home. Sometimes home is the place of their childhood. My mother-in-law feared her parents were missing her, so she must leave. The house of her childhood was the only memory that remained.
Like me being transported at the ranger station, Alzheimer’s sufferers are led to unfamiliar places by unfamiliar people. So often in memory care facilities, patients wander the halls or stand at the exit wanting to go home. The trained staff relieve their fears by explaining someone is on their way to get them or some other fib. Usually, this calms them so they can be redirected. However, if handled poorly they can become irate.
Calm, reassuring tones with creative redirection can calm them. Then by gently approaching the patient and softly taking their hand, they can typically be led anywhere. It helps to remember the patient feels abandoned and lost. We can’t take them home, but we can make them feel safe.
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. II Corinthians 5:1 NASB