My sister sent me this link, with the simple subject line “Thinking of dad tonight.”
And yeah, all the feels. My dad too fought in the Pacific in WWII. He’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s for what? Sixteen or seventeen years now? Something like that, it gets fuzzy. At first it was just general forgetfulness, sometimes confusion. Then it got worse, very gradually. He’d wander off in search of something known only to his confused brainmeats. He’d forget names, grandkids, even kids sometimes, if we showed up with a beard when we’d been clean-shaven before. He had his dodges: “Heyyy, great to see you! How’s everything going?” while not entirely sure who he was talking to. Defense mechanism, coping. We’d play along.
Then came the various crises. My wife the neurologist insists on the term “idiopathic encephalopathies” because the “mini-stroke” terms bandied about by the local docs drove her up the wall. Events that mimicked strokes: he falls down, the left side of his face droops, he can’t move the left side of his body. But the imaging shows no brain bleed, so no stroke, mini or otherwise. I’m not the neurologist in the family, so I take it on faith. But these happened about once a year, and it was always a “gather the tribe” event, because his docs said he wasn’t going to make it much longer. So we’d all fly in from the four corners of the world, and wait, and worry.
Well, he kept proving them wrong. He would rally, and, once home, would even bloom, puttering around the kitchen, taking delight in the simple pleasures of sweeping out the driveway or watering the plants. Of course, he tended to put the dishes away in the closet, but hey, you take what you can get. He’s trying to help, and means well. And sometimes he’d be absent, a lot of the time he’d be absent, but then there were those times when he suddenly looked you in the eye and you knew he knew who you were and he said something just lovely and true and it was like he was back.
Those generally didn’t last too long. It’s an extremely unkind disease. But the baseline was that he always recognized and craved my mom’s presence. If she wasn’t around he’d start looking around and asking where she was.
Sometimes Alzheimer’s seems to hone someone down to their basic essence. If you were a mean bastard at heart, you’d be one of those angry old guys cursing at everyone. In my dad’s case, what the essence that was pared down to was simple sweetness and concern for others.
It’s an odd thing. You grow impatient, you wonder how this person, who was always a commanding figure in your life, is now essentially something like an infant in need of round-the-clock care. You feel guilty about feeling put-upon in that way, because of course it’s not his fault, and he took care of you when you were actually an infant.
He fell down and broke his hip this past week, on the sidewalk, while getting the morning newspaper. Surgery, rehab, here we go again. Do we do this? Is it worth it? Is it just more intervention when intervention is cruel? The decisions are not mine, but the troops are rallying one more time, the docs are surely whispering that tactless medical acronym “CTD.” Circling The Drain. Well, maybe. We’ve thought that before, many times. It doesn’t even matter at this point. He’s been mostly gone for a long time now. If we can make him happy and comfy, that’s what counts. And then you realize that you’re talking about your dad like you’d talk about your sick pet, and that’s weird too.
I’m told the only time he’s spoken since the surgery was to thank the nursing staff for taking care of him. I find that utterly in character.