There's No Roadmap to Where We're Going

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​​Welcome to Elizabeth's World

by Elizabeth Shean

I sit on my bed at the hotel in Cleveland, where I am attending a professional conference, and listen to the phone ringing at home. It is 7:30 a.m. in Mom’s time zone, and she will be sound asleep. In fact, the very purpose of my call is to wake her up. She no longer can set the alarm clock herself, and her Home Instead® CAREGiverSM, Anita, will be arriving in half an hour.

Mom answers after just a couple of rings and sounds groggy, as anyone would when they’ve just awoken.

After a brief greeting, I remind Mom that Anita will be arriving shortly. Mom replies in an anxious tone, “Oh, that’s right! Is Anita going to know where to take me today—how to get me there and everything? Because I don’t even know where I’m supposed to be going.”

“It’s OK, Mom,” I reassure her. “Anita knows exactly what to do.”

Each day, Mom awakens with a belief she is going somewhere: to the movies, to an urgent appointment—or to some unknown rendezvous. She is very concerned that she has overslept, is running late, that she doesn’t know where she’s going or how to get there. And she’s worried she will miss her important event.

Each day I must gently tell her there is no such appointment. No date for the movies. No scheduled lunch with friends. She can take her time; she is not running late. Go ahead and drink a cup of coffee to wake up.

Then Mom feels sheepish. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” she asks, dropping her gaze to the floor in an expression of humiliation. “I wonder where this comes from, why I always wake up thinking I have to be somewhere.”

I can offer no useful explanation, only cold comfort offered in a very businesslike tone in order to cover my own feelings of sorrow at my mother’s embarrassment over being unable to control her mind and memory. It’s something to do with the dementia, Mom. I’m sorry it distresses you. Perhaps it will pass eventually.

Sitting in my hotel room in Cleveland, I change the subject. I remind Mom I’ll be home in a few hours and gently hang up the phone. I sort through the conference swag, throwing most of it away and stuffing the few items of interest into my briefcase. I gather my toiletries into the requisite quart-sized bag and place them into an accessible pocket of my suitcase, where I can easily toss them onto the X-ray machine belt at the airport.

In the midst of this packing, I experience a strange moment of disorientation. It is Friday, isn’t it?

I look at my boarding pass again to double-check my scheduled departure time and confirm the flight is going to Houston. Mom’s words echo in my mind, “I don’t even know where I’m going.”

It’s OK, Mom. I don’t know where we’re going, either.

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