Before we start Christmas dinner, each member of my family takes a turn at giving thanks for something in their life. There are a lot of us, generally between 15 and 20 at holiday dinners, so this process takes a while and the food gets cold, but it makes us happy.
When his turn came a year ago, my father said, “I’m thankful that each day I wake up and I remember my name.” We chuckled. Uncomfortably.
My dad is a charming man and a warm man, but he has never been demonstrative. Since that Christmas, however, whenever he gave me a goodbye hug, he hugged hard. Really hard. And held on as though he'd never let go.
I didn’t completely understand then. He was healthy; it’s not as though he was dying and had to worry about whether or not this was the last time he would see me. He didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease, just a brain injury that left him a little spacy. Well, he was always a little spacy, so what’s a little spacier?
I’m thankful that I never pulled away or was irritated by his sudden demonstrativeness. Because now I realize that he wasn’t holding on to me—he was holding on to his memory of me. Before any of the rest of us understood, he knew. He knew he was losing his memory.
dementia brain injury my father Dad family daily life