When I was in my 20’s, I spent a lot of time volunteering for hospice. One of my first hospice patients was a woman in her 60’s who had dementia. Her son lived with her, but he needed a weekly respite.
I was told she was active and liked to go for walks. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I volunteered to spent time with her. After all, who couldn’t use some fresh air?
On my first day at her house, she announced she was going for a walk and started putting her shoes on. I started to put my shoes on.
“Now where do you think you’re going?” she asked.
I told her I was going for a walk with her.
“I walk alone,” she said bluntly.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I couldn’t really walk with her if she didn’t want me to, but I knew hospice and her son wouldn’t be thrilled if I lost her.
I let her walk out the door and quickly put on my shoes to follow her. She walked about a quarter mile, and I hung out about half a block behind her the whole time. When we got home, she went in the back door and I snuck in the front door.
“How was your walk?” I asked.
“None of your business,” she responded.
I realized she wasn’t going to make this easy on me. I wasn’t sure if dementia had made her more irritable or changed her personality. Maybe she just didn’t like me.
I wasn’t sure if she couldn’t remember my name or just didn’t want to acknowledge my presence. She didn’t talk to me unless I spoke to her first, and she usually gave me one word answers. I had a goal of getting invited on a walk with her, but it never happened.
One day she said, “You know, you can sit in the other room while you are here. We don’t have to be in the same room.”
But I kept coming back.
And I kept following her around on her walks.
In a way, it was a fun game. I had to keep her in sight, obviously, but I didn’t want her to see me. Occasionally I had to duck behind a tree or crouch behind a bush.
Over the next couple of months, I saw her once a week. Her walks become slower and her gait changed, but we kept with our routine. Her confusion increased, but she never struggled to stay on her route.
One day she got ready to leave for her walk and took a look at my shoes that were sitting by back door. Normally I wore tennis shoes to her house, but I had an event to go to after I visited her, so I had worn dress shoes on this particular day.
“Can you walk in those shoes?” she asked. My heart leapt. I thought maybe I had finally won her over and she wanted to invite me to walk with her. I asked if she wanted company.
“I walk alone,” she said. I gave her a quizzical look. “But it’s fine that you follow me like you do.”
I was shocked that she was aware I followed her. Maybe I wasn’t as sneaky as I thought.
Then she said something that resonated with me: “I walk alone but it’s fine you’re there.”
I walk alone but it’s fine you’re there.
I could have said the same thing to my family and friends so many times throughout my life. I’m an only child, and my husband says I am “100% only child.” I like to make my own decisions. I don’t like to ask for help. For better or worse, I do things my own way–even if it’s proven to be the wrong way. Above all, I like to spend time alone.
I appreciate now that my hospice patient was perhaps similar in her need to spend time alone. She wanted to go for a walk. By herself. I get it.
But, in the end, it was fine I was there. She didn’t want to interact with me. She didn’t need my conversation. But it was fine I was there.
It was better if I sat in the other room…but it was fine I was there.
After a few months of weekly visits, she moved to a memory care community.
It made me sad that she could no longer go on “solo” (note the quotes) walks, and it bothered me that she had a roommate. Actually, it probably bothered the roommate as well.
I went to visit after she got settled.
“It’s fine you’re here but you can sit in the other room,” she said.
Strangely, I took that as a compliment from my fellow introvert. She didn’t need to talk to me. We didn’t need to play board games or do a craft. It was enough that I was there….in the other room.
I walk alone but it’s fine you’re there.