Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Everyday Hero

So often, disease and ill health take an enormous toll in the final years of one's life and incapable of living any longer on your own, you find yourself to be an unwilling tenant of a nursing home. Despite the best efforts of the nursing staff, the impersonal surroundings seem frightening and unfamiliar. Memories of the place you once knew as home, become your solace. If you could only go back home, everything would feel normal again. 
Then a unique opportunity presents itself and a door lingers open after a careless visitor enters the locked Alzheimer's ward. You seize the opportunity and steal unnoticed into the stairwell. Then, you slip quietly down the stairs and out into the fresh air. You take a deep breath and feel happy for the first time in months. You are going home.

It was the sort evening when we wished we didn't have to walk the dogs. The light drizzle meant that the dogs would have to be towel-dried when we got home. Still, there was no getting round it. After a day of being pent up in the house while we were at work, they needed to be walked. So with the dogs in tow, we headed out to make our nightly circuit of the neighborhood. 

A few minutes into our walk, we learned about a missing woman from our neighbors, who were enjoying a late night drink under the cover of their front porch. She was an Alzheimer's patient that had wandered away from a nursing home earlier in the day. Moments before our arrival at their front porch, our neighbors had spoken to her frantic relations, who were out combing the area looking for her. (Some local citizen had spotted her in the neighborhood and called the police. Her relations were acting on this tip.) 

We said our good nights to the neighbors and continued down the road to our house on the corner. Then, just as we were minutes from our front door, we saw a shadowy figure cross the intersection in front of us. While a pedestrian may not generally be a noteworthy sight, in our rural area, foot traffic is a rarity. 

We turned to look at one another. Could this be the missing Alzhemeir's pateint? Neither of us was willing to ignore the possibility. 

We tend to think of heros as people who make grand, fearless gestures like dashing into a burning building to save a life. But sometimes being a hero is a simple matter of stepping up, while most people might step away or leave a rescue to someone else. 

When we reached the driveway, I took the dogs inside and Harold got into our car. He put his cell phone on speaker phone and called the local police. From the police dispatcher, he got a description of the missing patient. Apparently, she had been wearing a blue terry robe and slippers when she wandered from the home. He also found out her first name, Helen (name changed).

Following in the direction we had seen her walking, Harold headed up the hill. He drove a little ways past the woman and pulled the car into the driveway of a closed business. As she reached the crest of the hill, he could she her more clearly. Her hair was wet and her terry robe was soaked through, after hours of walking in the rain. Her slippered feet must have been freezing.

Harold watched her approach the car with trepidation. How to play this? He certainly didn't want to startle her, only keep her in one spot, until the police could arrive. With the police dispatcher still listening, incase things went wrong, he rolled down the car window and called out her name using the most friendly and familiar tone he could muster,"Hi Helen!"

Helen came to a halt next to the car. She wasn't alarmed at all. After all, this man knew her name.

"Where are you off to tonight?", Harold asked.

Despite her exhaustion and confusion, Helen knew exactly where she was going. "I'm going home", she answered back.

Looking for any excuse to detain her further, Harold continued, "And where is home?"

"I live in Bramalea. It's just down the road here.", she replied confidently. The truly heartbreaking thing about this statement was, not only was Helen walking south, while the suburb of Bramalea lay far to the east, she was a many, many miles from the house in Bramalea that she considered to be her "home".

Thankfully, a police cruiser which had been in the area, pulled up along side Harold's car moments later. A young officer strode over, "Helen! We've been looking for you all night!" The officer thanked my husband and lead a very cold and weary Helen to his cruiser. With this, the evening ended quietly.

My dearest husband is always willing to step in and lend a hand. As a member of Scouts Canada, he tries to lead by example and is always willing to "do a good turn."

The man I married twenty-six years ago is still my best friend. He is the plucky sidekick on all my crazy adventures and the photographer behind many of the best close-ups on this blog. He is both my greatest   supporter and harshest critic. He is the hero of all my stories.

Happy 50th birthday Harold. I love you!


  1. Hero indeed. That story brings tears to my eyes. We had an uncle with Alzheimers and it is so sad. Poor Helen.
    Happy Birthday to Harold, your kindness abounds.

  2. Happy Birthday, Harold!
    What a story. It touched my heart. Thank you!
    P.S. Beautiful glowers!

  3. Wow ... what a GREAT story! Happy 50th Birthday Harold! I hope your day is Hero Worthy!

  4. Dear Jennifer, As you say, heroes can come in all shapes and sizes and often the best are those who go quietly about their heroics. A happy ending to a most beautifully told story and, of course, the hero of the hour....Harold. How wonderful that after so many years he is still your best friend. May you enjoy many more years together!!

  5. This touched my heart. We had a similar experience with an Alzheimer's patient coming to our house - obviously a house from her past. Thankfully we were able to keep her engaged until we tracked down where she had come from and a police officer came to take her "home". ~Alana~

  6. Tears came to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this...Harold is a hero, and a very special man.

  7. The image of the pink Lupine composition is a superb work of art

  8. My hand is out to shake the hand of Harold for his concern and action taken regarding Helen. Happy Birthday Harold.

  9. Jennifer, this story was both so tragic and so wonderful. Wish Harold a happy birthday for me.

  10. I think I love your Harold too what a heart warming story so glad you found Helen.... Your Harold is indeed a hero and you are right to be proud.

  11. Poor woman, am very glad you and your lovely husband were there to help her.

  12. That is sure special. I'm glad you could help. Sorry I haven't been by to see your pictures and comment on your blog. I haven't been feeling well. Springtime is just round the corner! I can't wait. :D

  13. Beautiful photos and substance---the perfect combination. People who make these small (and sometimes not so small like your husband's) gestures every day are the true heroes. Sometimes I think every day kindness is a lost art.

  14. Happy birthday Harold - you're a thoughtful, generous man!

  15. Thanks everyone for your good wishes. I think I chose this particular story to tell because, it has an extra level of personal meaning for Harold. In the time since the evening of this story took place, Harold's own Mum has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

  16. What a wonderful story and so glad it had such a happy ending. Well done, Harold!! It's heartwarming to know there are those who care enough to put the needs of others ahead of their own! And, you certainly deserve a truly HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY (I'm afraid I'm a tad late with my good wishes as I'm only now catching up on Jennifer's posts!).

    If YOU took the exquisite close-ups featured in this post, may I say how absolutely captivating they are - the effect is like a painting!

    I've just read Jennifer's comment directly ahead of mine - I'm so sorry to hear your Mum has Alzheimer's!! I wish you strength and forbearance for the difficult times that will inevitably lie ahead.

  17. Harold deserved an extra piece of cake for this one. Your first paragraph reminded me so much of my grandmother who had quite the reputation as a runner from her nursing home. She could often be found in the parking lot waiting for her late parents or husband to come pick her up and take her home. Eventually her desire to run left her, along with many other capacities.


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