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True Winter Tales: Today's pick

When She Takes a Walk by Heather Cromarty

When my Mom's diagnosis finally came I went home as soon as I could. I arrived on Boxing Day. It was a relief to my Dad to have someone in the house. He'd been leaving her alone, going to work. He couldn't afford not to. On returning he'd often find the oven or the taps on. It's what we expected to happen, eventually. So having me there was one whole week without that particular stress. I would turn off the taps and the stove, if needed. I'd make her eat. 

I joke that cold weather follows me: the day I moved to Toronto years before the temperature suddenly dropped; I went to LA over Christmas and was met with rain and 10 degree temperatures; that December, leading into January, Calgary denied me a Chinook and instead greeted me with snow and minus 30. One morning, half-asleep in my old basement bedroom, I heard the back doorbell ring. Initially I ignored it. It wasn't my house anymore; the caller wouldn't be there to see me. The doorbell kept ringing, so I went upstairs. It was my mother at the door, outside, in the bright and bitter cold. 

She'd gone for a walk, and lost her keys somewhere along the way. She insisted we go back out and look for them, in the howling wind, on every lawn, in any disturbed snow-bank. We never did find her keys. I was completely shaken. This event, more than the diagnosis, made her disease real to me. 

Last year I heard a story of a woman with Alzheimers who'd wandered off into the cold, and died.  At that moment all I could think of was the cold day my Mom locked herself out: minus 30 and 9am. My Dad wouldn't have returned home until 4.

That day I told her that she had to suspend these walks, at least for the winter, trying somehow to reconcile the fact that this was both my mother and a person I had to make rules for. Sounding like a mother myself, I said "You could have frozen to death out there!" I was so thankful she'd remembered, somehow, that I was there. She had enough in her to ring that doorbell. Though maybe she'd have rung it anyway, all day, waiting. It hurts to think about.  I didn't show my Mom how upset I was. I tried to be calm, but I was so young, and so unprepared for this to happen. That was a real taste of the struggles she'd have moving forward, all the changes we'd face.  

Instead of a new set of keys, my Mom got a Medic Alert bracelet, which turned out to be symbolic more than anything.  After that day, for the rest of her life, she never again left the house unattended.

Heather Cromarty is from Toronto, ON 

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