I wrote this June of last year, reposting to honor my father and November/Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month.
Facing a parent with dementia…
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 8 older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease. The incidence and prevalence of this disease is on the rise. As we age, many of us will face this disease with our parents. This piece was written to raise awareness and in tribute to my father.
Until I received a very strange phone call two summers ago, I didn’t realize how many ways there are to say goodbye.
My father was on the line and he wanted to know if I was sitting down because he had great news.
“I just inherited a million dollars,” he exclaimed.
I don’t come from the type of family that bequeaths a million dollars. When he told me his fortune was from a childhood friend he hadn’t spoken to in 70 years my concern rather than his bank account increased.
I soon learned that it is futile to disagree with someone who is suffering from dementia. At 87 years old, my father survived World War II, widowhood with two small girls to raise and most of his old age sans too many bruises all to become master of a strange universe. It was sudden and difficult to come to terms with.
Dead relatives have resurfaced and have invited themselves to Thanksgiving dinner. All kinds of celebrities have become distant relations and I’ve even found myself with a new brother. More heartbreaking is my father’s insistence that my mother, who passed away 38 years ago, is still alive and spends most of her time at the Waldorf Astoria waiting for us. He often queries if we have seen her and becomes upset if we haven’t. Though in his own way, he ponders why he hasn’t seen her.
He was someone who loved to travel and he now travels between two different worlds - the world that seems to agree with the order of things and the one inhabited by the past lacking order or control. The characters who surface in this new world range from those who’ve left big gaping holes like crater in our hearts to others who just flitted by.
The old world barely exists and the new world doesn’t. After the initial shock and denial, I decide to participate in both worlds not understanding either. Meanwhile in my own world, I’m missing a piece. I have a wonderful story to relay and I think my father would be a great audience and then I pause and remember that it would be too arduous to explain. From a wonderful conversationalist he has become taciturn.
I wonder about loss. Is this a legitimate loss? If it feels real, it must be. If that’s so, his premise is not that far off. I pine for our laughs and for his wry and sardonic quips. His generosity always outpaced what he had but he loved to offer help.
Alternatively, he is at times more satisfied than he’s ever been. The pre-dementia father could be unhappy.
We all have many sides to our personality. Forever changed irrevocably my father is here and gone. Now we travel together, he revels in the past while I yearn for it.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/batega/1865482908/”>Josep Ma. Rosell</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
- See more at: http://thatgirlisback.com/there-are-many-ways-to-say-goodbye/#sthash.2Dyb92Cr.dpuf