Shortly before I left my job as a police officer, I was dispatched to a house for a reported burglary in progress. Upon my arrival, I checked the perimeter and exterior of the residence. Everything appeared to be secure. I determined that this did not appear to be a burglary in progress. Upon making contact at the front door, I met a lovely elderly couple, who seemed very upset. They began telling me how a man had just been in the back porch of the residence. I advised them that I had already checked the exterior of the residence and everything appeared to be secure. I asked them to show me to the back porch.
As they walked me through the residence, I immediately realized that something was off. The house was in complete disarray. But, not in the “someone had just broken in and ransacked the place” way. No, it was more like the “ok, so this is how these people live” kind of way. Trust me, there’s a difference. I noticed that not only was the house dirty, but things were just strewn about all over the place. Items were in rooms that it didn’t make sense for them to be in. I remember there was a distinct musty odor and leaves were all over the floor. And, there were cases of soda all over the place.
When we got to the back porch, I noticed more of the same. Complete chaos and disorganization. Enough to give someone with OCD (me) a panic attack. I asked the couple to show me where they saw the man and where the believed he gained entry into the porch. They showed me a screen door that led out to the backyard. The door looked like it hadn’t been opened in years and operated in the same way. It was also locked from the inside. I asked them if they had closed and locked the door after the man left and they said they did not. I explained to them that it didn’t really make sense that someone could have broken into the back porch via this door, which was now closed and locked from the inside. They agreed with me, but they both seem confused.
Once my partner arrived, we checked the residence and its exterior a bit more. We were both absolutely certain that no one had even been on the property, let alone inside the residence. The elderly woman looked heart-broken when we explained this to her. She began to tell me that her husband suffered from dementia and that it was usually just the two of them at home. He became upset when he thought he saw and heard someone break into the back porch. After hearing his story, she had convinced herself that it was true and she believed that a man who lived down the street had broken in. I could see the pain and sadness in her eyes as she slowly realized that she had been wrong. No one had been in the house. Her husband had imagined the whole thing.
I asked the couple if they had any family members. They told me they had several adult children. They were able to give me a few of their names, but no contact information. After doing some research in our computer system, I found the phone number for one of their daughters. I called her and explained the situation to her. She was extremely embarrassed and apologetic. She explained to me that her dad suffered from dementia and that she believed her mom was beginning to show signs of it, as well. She explained how she had a few siblings, but they were all busy with their jobs and raising their own families. She had set up a grocery delivery service for their parents, but they were unwilling to accept a caregiving service. She explained that she managed a business that provided people with a caregiving service and how frustrating it was that her own parents wouldn’t accept help. She said that she would talk to her siblings about the situation and they would make more frequent visits to check up on their parents until they could figure out a permanent solution.
I went back inside the residence and told the elderly couple that I had spoken with their daughter. They seemed amazed and eternally grateful that I was able to get in touch with her. They clearly didn’t remember how to do so on their own. As I was leaving, they offered me a case of soda to take home with me. I thanked them, but said it wasn’t necessary. They kept insisting that I take a case of soda with me. It was as if that was their way of repaying me for what I had done for them. I told them that while I greatly appreciated the sweet gesture, they needed the case of soda more than I did. Truthfully, I didn’t feel like I deserved a case of soda from them. I wanted to help them so badly, but there was only so much I could do.
I went out to my car and cried.
At the time, my mom was about three years into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I believe that I was meant to be the officer who responded to that house that day. I recognized what was going on almost immediately. I knew the signs all too well. The dirty, unorganized house. The confusion. The story that didn’t make any sense. This was my life. This was my future. This was what was going to become of my parents one day if I was always too busy with work and my life. I would never have time to check up on them. They would never accept outside help. They would be home alone one day, calling the police because they thought someone was breaking into their house. I completely empathized with the daughter and her siblings being too busy with work and their own lives to constantly check on their parents. I completely understood. But, I didn’t want it to be that way.
I had stood over a man who had been shot in the head, blood and brains pouring out the back, as he took his last breath. I had discovered the body of a woman who had overdosed days before, leaving her infant child crying on the bed right next to her decomposing body. I had stood outside of a burning house while a five-year-old boy died inside because his grandmother didn’t think anyone was inside the house. I had discovered the decomposing body of a man who had been murdered in his own house at least two weeks before because that’s how long it took someone to realize that he was missing. None of that bothered me. None of it. But this? This bothered me.
I responded to the residence of that elderly couple at least two more times before I left the job. Each time it was the same thing. I knew to call the other officers off ahead of time because I was sure that no one was breaking into the house. I knew to call the daughter to explain what was going on. I knew that they would persistently offer me cases of soda to take home. Each and every time. They had so many cases of soda.
I saw my future in that elderly couple. It was like looking into a crystal ball. I knew that this would be my parents one day if no one stepped up to help. I cried every time I left that house. I felt a little more broken each time. I wonder what ever happened to that elderly couple. I think about them all the time.