“It scares him,” she says, turning to her dad: “Right?”
“Oh yeah, they gotta put signs up, ah-heh, heh,” Berry laughs, quietly now, fiddling absently with his wallet, looking out the window.
Berry’s thoughts on the matter are scattered and half-formed. He says he doesn’t go too far anymore, or at least he doesn’t intend to.
“It’s ah, I try to keep track of the houses and stores and . . . Now it’s . . .
“My brain doesn’t keep track of what’s going on . . . ” Berry says with a shrug. “So that’s it.”
After the September incident, police suggested Debbie look into getting a GPS tracking device, which she has considered but still isn’t sure about. Gadgets are expensive, and she worries it would give her father a false sense that he could come and go as he pleases. A day program might be good for him, but she says her father isn’t interested.
Debbie knows there are other options, but she is so worn down that she hasn’t had the time to do the proper research. She got the paperwork for a MedicAlert bracelet, which would provide a safety net when he does wander, but she hasn’t filled it out yet. She keeps waiting for a time when she has a moment to think beyond her daily duties: work, cook, clean, sleep . . .
The guilt she feels over not being able to do more has settled in permanently.
“I feel bad because when he goes out and gets lost, because maybe I should’ve been there,” Debbie says.
After each disappearance, her father has promised he won’t go out alone anymore, and she’s believed him. Debbie is only now beginning to realize he has no control over it.
For 18 months, Bob’s disappearance remained a mystery
Rob Hagans sits at his kitchen table, trying to hold himself together as he talks about his dad.
Hagans is 48, the second youngest of his Irish father’s four sons, a big guy with a soft heart. He was divorced and living with his parents in North York four years ago when his dad, Bob, began to forget things and show signs of confusion. Bob had spent his whole life avoiding doctors, infamously walking around for two months with a dislocated shoulder before going to the hospital, so his sons did not immediately push him to seek treatment.
“There were times when his descent into dementia was obvious,” Hagans says. “And, um . . . you kind of kick yourself for not moving at the time that you noticed it.”
Hagans was sleeping when his father, 76, set out from home early in the morning on July 22, 2011. Bob loved to walk, and it was not unusual for him to spend his days gallivanting from one local haunt to another, so Hagans and his mother, Shirley, didn’t realize he was missing until after dark.
For 18 months, Bob’s disappearance remained a mystery.
Then, in January 2013, a human skull and a few other bones were discovered in a wooded area near behind a subdivision alongside Highway 407 in Vaughan. They belonged to Bob Hagans. Police told Rob that foul play was not suspected. The rest of his father’s remains had likely been scattered by animals, which is still a difficult thought for the son to process. Hagans also wonders: how did Dad get there? How did he die? How long did it take? Was he hungry? Did he suffer? Was he scared?
It seems unfathomable that in a city of millions, no one would have noticed a small, dishevelled old man wandering through the streets under the hot sun, stumbling into a wooded area far from home. That’s why for a long time Hagans held on to the belief that his father had been a victim of violence. Lately, he has come to accept that it is more likely his father wandered.
There are no reliable statistics indicating how many people die from wandering, but news reports suggest it happens at least a few times a year across Canada. In August, 82-year-old Chandrowtie Basdeo left her daughter’s house in Vaughan at around 3:30 a.m. and was killed after she wandered onto Highway 400 and was struck by an SUV. Basdeo had Alzheimer’s disease. Her family believes she may have been remembering her old life in Guyana, where she woke before dawn to walk to her job in a rice field.
In January 2013, Kathleen Pollock, 87, was found dead on the doorstep of the Scarborough estate where she had lived for half a century, long before she moved into a retirement residence and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
In January 2011, an unnamed 66-year-old woman with dementia wandered from home and froze to death on a Toronto sidewalk in the middle of the night. Research has shown that the heat of summer and freezing months of winter prove most deadly for wanderers.
For Rob Hagans, hearing that it was just an unlucky thing that happened to his father — that others wander and make it home safely every single day — doesn’t ease the guilt.
“Knowing that I could have done something . . . that I could have maybe changed the situation . . . it’s, uh . . . ” He sighs and wipes away the tears rolling down his cheeks. “Sometimes it’s unbearable.”