The Day He Walked Away

If you’re reading this, chances are that at this very moment you could walk outside your home, office or wherever you are, breathe in the fresh air and take a stroll. Just like that. You may have kids in tow. You may have an employer wonder what you’re doing. But most of us have the freedom to go outside and do something as simple as take a walk.


I’m sure that’s what my Father was thinking on a Sunday afternoon four years ago. It was 93° in late August with the sun pouring down outside and my Father getting cabin fever inside. My niece Lara, who was 5 at the time, and I had built a tent out of a sheet, blankets, a coffee table and a few chairs in the living room when he announced he was going for a walk.


At this point, Dad no longer rode his bike. But since he loved being outdoors, he would take short walks around the corner of our subdivision. He was never gone long. His short-term memory was still pretty good and if we asked him to come home in 30 minutes, he obliged. Sometimes, I would drive around the block, just to keep an eye on him and make sure he was fine.


As 30 minutes stretched into an hour, we grew concerned. Hoping he had just lost track of time, we drove around the neighborhood looking for him. Since my Dad was such a talker and knew no strangers, I thought he had probably stopped at a neighbor’s house to chat and was invited indoors to escape the heat. Lara and I went door to door asking if the neighbors had seen him. But our search was fruitless.


Lara looked at me and began to cry.


“I miss Papaw Jack,” she said with tears in her eyes. “What if he never comes back?”


According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 6 out of 10 people with dementia will wander. But people with dementia are not the only ones who wander. Someone you dearly love can be in your life for years and all of a sudden, they walk away. A flood of emotions washes over you and the questions begin. Where are they? Are they angry with me? Did I say or do something to make them leave? Are they hurt?  Why don’t they contact me? What is going on?


And just like that, the person you love is out of reach. As humans, we are limited. We have more questions than we have answers. We don’t know where they are, or what they’re thinking. But there is One who does.


The same One who fashioned them in their mother’s womb, who uniquely designed them and who knows how many hairs are on their head, knows. He knows where they are. He knows what they’re thinking. He knows if they’re in harm’s way and He knows the path they’re taking.


So, when it became clear to me that my Father was missing, He is the first One I turned to.


“God, where is he?” I prayed silently, asking Him to keep my Father safe.


For some reason, I wasn’t worried. I even had a sense of calm. But that had nothing to do with me. It was because God had given me peace. Like a divine needle that had penetrated and flooded my heart with an inexplicable sense of knowing that my Father was o.k.


“Papaw Jack is o.k.,” I told my niece. “We’ll find him.”


We called the police, gave a description and kept praying. Wanting friends and family to know, I posted something on Facebook, asking for prayer. I have no idea how many people saw that post or how many uttered a prayer on my Father’s behalf. But I do know that 18 minutes after I made my plea on social media, the police called and told us they’d found my Father.


Nearly 4 hours after he left the house that afternoon, I drove about a mile to find him sitting on a retaining wall on the side of road, chatting with the police.


I wasn’t angry. It wasn’t his fault that he lost track of time and couldn’t find his way back home. As I approached him, he got a little defensive. He was just out for a walk! What was wrong with that? I told him nothing, but he had been gone a long time. Dad looked with disbelief at the police officer, who just pointed to his watch.


I drove him home, where he promptly ate dinner, drank two glasses of tea and then slept most of the next 24 hours. He’d been a bit dehydrated but thankfully did not suffer a heatstroke or a fall. That was the end of his solo walks. Mom got him an ID necklace and if he ever tried to go for a walk again, I went with him.


I never thought there could be anything positive about my parents’ health declining, but since that summer my Father has grown more feeble. And that has been a blessing in disguise. A trip to the mailbox is about all he can handle these days.


Thankfully, we found our loved one. But maybe you’re still looking for yours. The only advice I can offer is to keep praying and then listen for God to speak to you. He knows exactly where you’re loved one is.

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