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  • Grandpa Jose, my father-in-law, is suffering dementia. He has had multiple strokes and some parts of his mind are there 100%, while other parts are like wispy clouds that he cannot quite embrace.

    He lives with my sister-in-law and different members of our family watch him 24 hours a day to make sure he does not hurt himself or confusedly run out of the house in the dead of winter. Many dementia patients have “Sundowners Syndrome” where they become more agitated and active at night. Dad is no exception to this.

    This particular evening Dad gets up to go to the bathroom. I know where he is going, so finish my project before getting up. This short delay is all it takes – he sees keys in the back door and never makes it to the bathroom. He hurriedly opens the door so he can run outside. He has no hat or gloves on, he has no money, he does not know where he is going. He is confused. What he does know, however, is that he wants to GO! Somewhere. Anywhere.

    I hear the keys and run to the door. I have caught him in the act. I take the keys away from him and lock the door again. He starts shaking his head and laughing, “Oh forget about it! Just forget about it,” he says. “FOR – GET – A – BOUT – IT!!” His face turns angry.

    “Where are you going Dad, it is 20 degrees outside and it is very dark outside?” I say.

    “Open it! Just open it!” he says.

    “I cannot. We have to stay home tonight. Where do you want to go?”

    Dad gets a very angry look on his face and says, “FORGET ABOUT IT! Forget about it! I’m getting’ outta here. I want to go down and have a couple beers at the corner pub.”

    “Dad, there is no corner pub nearby. You cannot add or subtract, how would you know if you were getting proper change? Besides, you remember that the doctor said you can no longer drink liquor until your brain heals again. Remember? Can I get you a cup of coffee Dad?”

    Dad has a stare down with me. He gives me the eye then says, “I don't want coffee. I don't want candy. I don't want a cookie. I want to go get a beer. BY MYSELF. With no one with me.”

    He spends the evening staring at the door. Various family members try to coax him away. He walks to the front door and rattles the door handle and stares at it too. He turns to me at one point and says, “I don’t like your pants - got too many holes in those pants. All raggedy. And I can’t find my coat.”

    I look at the old holey jeans I am wearing and grin, “Dad, you are wearing your coat. Right now – look at your sleeves. See your coat?” He nods vaguely and pats his arm.

    He finally remembers he has to go to the bathroom and when he returns his pants are wet. He was unable to make it. I am sad. I go and get him dum-dum suckers (his favorite) and he unwraps all four and puts them all in his mouth at one time and resumes his vigil by the door.

    I feel sick-at-heart because even if we drive him somewhere, almost every night it is back to the same thing. He wants to go. He wants to run free. Yet there is no escaping dementia -- he is unable to take care of himself or find his way. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have such a powerful desire to do something without the faculties to manage. It is a closed door.

    All the family is taking care of him. Loving and protecting Dad the best we can. I hug him when I leave. I tell him I love him. At least he remembers the feeling of being cared for and loved. In the end that is all any of us ever have.
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