Author's Note: The post below was originally written last July. At the time, I didn't have the heart to publish it. I completed the post, gave it an editing pass, let my mouse hover over the "PUBLISH" button, then stopped. Angry. Angry at myself for giving up so soon. My dad hadn't given up; how could I.
Our unwillingness to give up set in motion a flurry of activity focused on arresting my father's dementia, and preserving his memory and physical ability to function in the world. Little did I know that six months after writing this post, I would be thankful that my dad didn't remember what I did for a living, but at least remembered who I was.
He hasn't given up yet. And neither have I. But our goal now is to preserve his dignity and give him what joy we can within his capability for comprehension.
And surrender to the knowledge that no matter what we do, each day he will decline.
July 24, 2009
We want to feel like we’re moving forward. We want to grow in love, grow in knowledge, strength, intelligence, fitness and happiness. And we want to see those we love grow, too.
We want—no, we expect things to look forward to in our lives and in the lives of our friends and family—the next relationship, the next job, the next award, the next wedding, the next graduation, the new house, the new promotion, the new dress, the new friend.
My dad will not move forward anymore. There will be no more growth or new or next. With luck, and a lot of time and attention, maybe we can keep him from sliding so deep into dementia that he no longer knows where he is or who we are.
I watched a friend of mine take care of his elderly dad for years. He would bring him every Tuesday night to Bible class and every Sunday to church. His dad had been a nuclear physicist and had been one of the best and the brightest when this science was in its infancy. He was a sweet dear old man whose brain was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. And all I knew was the sweet dear old man. I never knew the brilliant scientist my friend knew as his dad.
And this is part of life. Right? People grow old and sweet and mindless. And aren’t we supposed to accept it gracefully?
I didn’t know my friend’s dad when he was brilliant, but I did know the brilliant man who was my dad. Top of his class in high school. Princeton graduate. First salesman at IBM to demo a then little-known invention called a hard drive. Turned an insurance company around as its CEO. Midas touch with real estate and investments.
In his own way my dad is a new man now. A brain injury has turned his brilliant mind into marbles rolling about in peanut butter. My mom and I talk to each other while he looks on, trying with all his might to comprehend our conversation. And every so often, for a blink of an eye, the marbles all line up, he tunes in and you can see his mind churning out a brilliant thought. But like a lucid moment in a dream, before it’s fully formed and he can say it out loud, the thought is gone. Then, his face twists into confusion, he shakes his head and mumbles. And that’s the end of the conversation.
What once was a lively and constant intellectual challenge—keeping up with my dad’s mind—has become a moment of sad realization.
We took my dad today to visit an adult day care center. A lovely place, filled with energetic happy people who are good at what they do and truly love caring for the elderly. I should be happy that we found such a lovely place with such wonderful people.
Forgive me if I’m not.
Today forced me to admit that I’ll never have the same relationship with my dad again. Never mind that I can’t rely on him for investment advice or to help me install a new faucet. No, this is what is tearing me up—I may never again be able to go to him for career advice because he can’t remember what exactly it is I do.
dementia brain injury my father Dad family daily life