It’s time for another blog post about my dad. As you may know from previous posts, my dad, aged 93, is in the middle stages of dementia. Never an easy man to live with, he is now surrounded by anxieties, paranoia and memory black holes.
After a recent call from him where he basically hung up on me because I wouldn’t give him what he wanted, I spent a few days growing more and more depressed and anxious myself. Today, I woke up from a nap (or was it just an afternoon extension of the previous night’s sleep?) and realized that I needed to have a good talk with myself.
So I got on my shoes and started walking down the driveway to get the mail. As I walked, I talked to myself under my breath, asking questions, answering them and generally looking a little odd. Fortunately, as an artist, I can get away with that, my neighbors are used to me being a bit, um, different.
The gist of the conversation was this…I am grieving. Surprisingly I am not just grieving for the loss of my dad as I knew him but also the loss of my dad as I have always wanted him to be. I think as parents we have such expectations of our children but as children, we have equally high expectations of our parents sometimes. It took to the end of the driveway for me to realize that I am going to have to let go of the desire to hear certain words from my dad. It took the walk back to voice what those words actually are.
“Hey, how are YOU doing?”
“You know I really care about you and want you to have all the necessary skills to get through this life.”
“Wow you are one talented lady, I’m so very proud of you.”
“Are you okay? I heard you were going through a rough time and wanted you to know I was thinking about you.”
Needless to say, I never heard any of these words when I was growing up…my dad is pretty much a narcissist and my existence was mostly groomed to enhance his. This had its perks in that he bought several pieces of my art throughout the years, both for he and my mother and to give as gifts. He was always in the audience whenever I was onstage or backstage of some production in high school and college. He drove two hours to bring me an extra set of keys in college when I temporarily lost my set somewhere on campus. But all of these things were used more as boasting points in his community, he loved when his children presented him with something he could use in a conversation around town.
The dementia irony is that I can honestly say he’s said “I love you” more times in the past three years than he did the 49 previous ones. Dementia is such a double-edged sword. On the one hand it has softened up his boundaries enough for him to say words that I have long needed to hear. On the other hand, it has taken away the part of his brain that is able to understand personal safety and wise life choices. So “I love you” can be followed by “You all are planning together behind my back to try to make my life miserable.” What hasn’t been affected is his knowledge of exactly how to use words and tone of voice in the best way to wound his emotionally sensitive youngest child. And once again I am trying to figure out how to armor myself against him.
And in the meantime, I grieve for the man my father isn’t. I grieve also for the man he was.
P.S. This is perhaps an unfair picture to post, he would not like it at all. He has always loved to have his picture taken, but prefers to be smiling or laughing. This was taken the weekend of my mother’s memorial service so it was not exactly a happy time. What I did not know was that the dementia had already started and would continue to work its way into his life without alerting anyone. It took another two years for his children to understand that he was not capable of making sane rational choices about his life. I like this picture because it really shows him in an honest moment, one where the laughter and fun has been stripped away and he is not trying to be the funny man of the town, but simply, a man.
In case you also don’t like this picture, I am also posting one that was taken a few months later during his 90th birthday party. Again, looking back, the signs of dementia were there and if we had known, perhaps we wouldn’t have subjected him to a huge community party, but merely taken him and a couple of friends out for dinner. Hindsight…