Wayfaring Mama. Caring for Elderly Parents with a Will to Wander.


Yesterday I took a nap.

I woke to my outraged son, wanting to know why I hadn’t answered my phone.

It seems that while I was sleeping, my 89-year-old Mama took off. She wandered the neighborhood until a wonderful neighbor took her in. The only thing Mama could get straight enough to tell her was my phone number.

But I was asleep. The phone was on the bed beside me. Just in case. I vaguely remember dreaming about the phone ringing. But it didn’t wake me. All my life, I’ve slept deep. I guess yesterday, I was sleeping really deep.

Somehow — I’m not sure how — the neighbor managed to contact one of my sons at work. He left his job and — in his own words — drove like the proverbial bat to get to Amah.

Amah, meanwhile, was fine. She was having a chirpy little old lady good time, visiting with the neighbors.

It turns out that Mama has been traveling the neighborhood at night. She’s been getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning and going to neighbor’s houses and getting them up to chat. They bring her home and we don’t know anything about it.

This is my nightmare scenario so far as Mama is concerned. If she starts wandering — and it appears she’s well into her wandering phase — I don’t know how to take care of her.

We’re reconfiguring things as I write. She’s getting a gps necklace. And we’re putting alarms on all the doors alert the police and should even get me awake and moving. We’re also reconfiguring the front door and garage doors so she can’t get out at night. She can go into the back yard all she wants. But not out the front.

I’m also going to sell some property to get the money to hire people to babysit with her when I have to be gone in the evenings. She goes to adult day care — a heaven-sent program that saves lives and money by allowing families to keep their elderly and disabled family members at home and still hold down jobs — during the day. A family member is with her most of the rest of the time.

But, we need someone to babysit once in a while, too. It’s the easiest baby sitting in the world; just dial up the sports channel, get Mama a diet Coke and make sure she doesn’t wander out the front door.

I can’t tell you how much I love Mama. We all do. The whole family is 100% involved in taking care of her. I am not some martyr for Mama who is doing all this alone. My sons do an enormous amount of the Amah care, and they do it cheerfully, lovingly and without complaint. My husband gets into it too.

Mama is a family project of love.

I hope that God gives us many more years with her. I’ve prayed at times when she was sick, asking for more time. But that is in His hands. My main prayer, which I pray fervently and often, is that Mama will be happy and not suffer. I trust her life to God. I know where she’s going when it’s time.

About a week ago, while we were out on Mama’s daily drive and ice cream run, she told me that she loved her “job” (adult day care) and that she enjoyed our drives so much. She took a few laps on her ice cream cone, then smiled. “I’m very happy,” she said.

That’s everything I ever wanted.

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  • hamiltonr

    Thank you Peggy. I’ll add you to my prayers, too.

    We’re installing high up locks and alarms and selling things to rustle up money for periodic care.

    • peggy-o

      Thanks and good luck! Found a Latin mass in Portland today and offered prayers for your blog and readers and everyone’s families including Foley, Ferguson and all the recent causes you keep us informed on. Thank God for the miracle of the mass!

      • hamiltonr


  • hamiltonr

    Thanks Sus. I check out care.com.

  • hamiltonr

    I think they thought they were being helpful, and letting us get our sleep.

  • hamiltonr

    Thank you Nancy.

  • pagansister

    This may be the future for me. My husband has severe dementia, but so far he isn’t doing the wandering. Your Mom seems to be a very determined woman! You are a wonderful daughter and your Mom is a lucky woman to have you and your family to love and care for her. Your plans for the alarms etc. sound like they should do the trick to keep her from taking off anywhere but the back yard.

    • peggy-o

      Pagansister, I’m so sorry for the struggles you and your husband are going through so early too! Prayed for your family at mass today. Stay strong!

      • pagansister

        Thank you so much for your prayers, Rebecca. I will take all the help I can get. It means a lot to know that a person I have never met “in person” cares enough to pray for those they have never met personally. Your blog is one of the highlights of my day.

        • hamiltonr

          And you are one of the highlights of the blog, mi amiga.

          • pagansister


    • FW Ken

      You know, from a Catholic perspective, marriage is a natural good, irrespective of beliefs or religious adherence. Those have their role to play, but if you live out that which is inherently good, as your posts indicate you have in your marriage, it’s not unreasonable to expect the graces contained in that goodness.

      Which is to say that grace may find you at the oddest moments, the hardest moments. That’s not a religious thought, but a reflection on the goodness built into the order of things. Life is magnificent, filled with good things.

      And it is hard: we, meaning primarily Mother, went through it with Dad, and that generation went through it with Grandmother. You also have my prayers.

      • pagansister

        Thank you for your kind, wise words FWKen. I thank you also for your prayers. As I told Rebecca, I will accept all the help I can get. We have our 50th Anniversary in December. I have never, ever regretted my decision to marry him. He is a good man.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Oh the wandering is dangerous. And how could her neighbors not let you know that she has been wandering in the wee hours? That is unconscionable. I do hope you work things out. There should be an easy solution somewhere. I can see how much you love her. God bless!

    • hamiltonr

      Thank you Manny.

  • Maggie Goff

    Your Mama has a beautifully expressive face. When she says she’s happy, I believe her. Just look at her. Makes me tear up. Thank you for sharing this. I hear the love.

    • hamiltonr

      Thank you Maggie.

  • hamiltonr

    We’ve done that. Spent a lot of $ re-doing things. Maybe we need to look at it again, in terms of security.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    I just got back from the Journey Together in Hope retreat for the Office of People with Disabilities for the Archdiocese of Portland. Wandering can also be a problem with younger people who do not understand phone numbers or addresses.

    But there is help available. You just need to advocate for it.

  • Mrshopey

    We had to install not only locks at the tops of doors but remove all knobs on gas oven as he kept turning them on at night!
    I am glad you have great neighbors and your mom is happy! This disease can be so hard on everyone!

    • hamiltonr

      Thanks Mrs Hopey.

  • peggy-o

    No worries….I know you have a lot of struggles before you and I am happy to help with prayers. I feel the same about Rebecça. Take Care.

    • pagansister

      Thank you.