“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”
― Ellen DeGeneres
The first time I read this quote I couldn’t stop laughing thinking what a wit Ellen was and cursing myself for never coming up with anything wittier than ‘mud in your eye’ or a tongue sticking out.
More than a fortnight back this same quote was no longer as funny but just a trigger to get me crying buckets.
You see my 95-year old grandfather, my Nanu, had gone for a walk and we really didn’t know where the heck he was.
What followed was a week of pure torture, much worse than anything the Chinese or Torquemador could have conceived (and from here say they seem to have conjured everything (in)humanly possible).
Well I bet they never imagined what a fevered mind could conjure up.
Those seven days were agonizingly slow in passing. Every passing second seemed to stretch into eternity, every ring on the phone brought us new hope only to be dashed and every passing old man seemed to have more than a smidgen of resemblance to my missing grandpa.
We cursed ourselves for not being mindful enough (when in fact stopping short of strapping him to the bed we kept an eye out for his every movement from the time he woke up to giving him his meals like clockwork to not letting him step out of the house to not letting him have his bath by himself – my mother was the primary and only care giver – to bundling him up like he was headed for the North Pole to regimenting his lifestyle so he hit the sack by 10 every night) , for not getting a leash, for not getting a GPS tracker, for not installing a CCTV camera, for not telling the neighbours about the slow onset of dementia, for not putting him in an assisted care facility that would have had care takers 24/7 and so on and so forth.
And while the self guilt and mental blame game went unhindered we also filed a police complaint.
Surprisingly, the police were very co-operative. They filed a complaint after the stipulated 24 hour waiting period. They issued an all city alert.
We called everyone in our contacts across the country to help us search or aid in the search.
We went on Social media to launch a campaign called Find Nanu on Facebook.
We scoured hospitals and police stations.
We went to NGOs (Nightingale Dignity Foundation comes to mind, they are doing a phenomenal job of taking care of people with dementia and alzheimers as also Auto Raja Foundation).
We discovered that there is an elderly helpline 1090 / 22943226.
We discovered that there is RVM Foundation which picks up destitutes on the streets and houses them till they find their real homes or takes care of them until alternate arrangements are made.
We made posters and plastered it all over the city, wherever we thought in our fevered imagination Nanu might have walked. You see we truly didn’t know where the heck Nanu walked to.
We hounded ex-journalist friends to write stories.
We contemplated issuing a missing persons alert on the telly and in the papers.
We planned on inserting flyers and have it distributed through local paper vendors.
THE LEADS (false but keeping hopes up)
And we waited.
That first call came from a girl who called at 1 am to inform us she saw someone looking like Nanu at a spot 8 kms away from our residence. SO rush, rush. Only to find it was a drunk who looked a lot like him.
Next came a call from the railway station and the hunt was on. Not him.
Then was the call we dreaded (or thought we did) from the morgue to identify an unidentified corpse. The good samaritan cop volunteered to check the body and thank God, it wasn’t Nanu.
We realised what was worse was the Not Knowing, the tormented imagination of a overtly stressed mind and emotional heart, the fact that we were snug in our beds while some one we loved and cherised was all alone battling a strange world, loneliness, hunger and thirst.
We got a message on Facebook from a stranger who urged us to go to a spot 22 kms away from our residence along with the stranger’s number and contact details.
A call ensued.
Hope had slowly receded but not quite.
We put out a message asking for volunteers so we could have more legs to cover a vast area that was park land, wooded and dark. Friends came, family rushed, acquaintances called, good samaritans volunteered.
seven days after he had disappeared, my 95-year old Nanu was finally found.
Here is how….
Always treat the Elderly like you would a teenager: Tell them the Do’s and Don’ts but equip them to cope (in our case we mollycoddled Nanu so much that we never bothered telling him the location of where we stayed or the address in the belief we would always be there to take care).
Quit with martyrdom and guilt, if assisted care or old age homes will keep your elders in safe environs, so be it.
Invest a little time and effort in making sure they always have an ID card on them (a friend told me how her mother had stitched an ID tag on all the clothes that mentioned the name of her dad, who had dementia, with address and emergency contact numbers).
Invest some time in getting to know your neighbours, the local cops and the hospital. Had we told our neighbours about my Nanu’s condition of partial memory loss perhaps some one would have brought him home the minute they saw him sauntering out alone on a walk.
Invest some money in getting a GPS tracker or a CCTV camera.
And yes, social media is great to get the message viral but what clicks is Good old Print……
And the most important lesson, BELIEVE IN THE GOODNESS OF PEOPLE.
What we received throughout this terrible ordeal has been overwhelming support from friends, acquaintances and strangers. People who called and messaged each day to enquire about the progress of the HUNT, about help they could provide, who gave us tips and leads and always, always kept out hopes alive.
THIS IS MY THANK YOU to all those out there who prayed, supported us and helped us sail the tide of bad karma.