Here are some comments made this past weekend by my father.
“I think it’s time for me to come back to civilization.”
“I keep thinking I’m in Florida.”
“What town are we in?”
“Who are those people outside?”
“What is my nurse’s name?”
“Where are you living?”
“Where have you been? I’ve been pining for you. Where have you been the past two days?”
“Where are you from?”
“How far away is that?”
“Do you have children? How old are they?”
“Who are those people outside?”
“Who was that man? I know him very well but I can’t remember his name.”
“Have you seen the head woman? What is her name again?”
“I think in my 95th year I’m going to retire.”
I think you get the picture. Dad has stepped further along the dementia path. He knew who my sister and I were, but couldn’t really come up with our names or where we were from. His ability to track time and place is gone for the most part. And it seems that life happens in very short spurts for him, then it happens again. And again. And…
It is fascinating what he does remember though. He knew that Saturday was the memorial service for his long time friend, my godfather, Al Sly. And he was thrilled we were there so that we could go together. I am also very glad I was able to sit with him and share a hymnal and prayer book and point out which hymn to sing. As an ex-organist, I was pretty sure he would have no problems singing the hymns. The Lord’s prayer seemed beyond him but it’s possible he couldn’t hear what we were saying.
(I just read an article that said that hearing loss and dementia were linked. Duh. It is harder to be in the world if you can’t hear what is going on. But really, even if he could hear, I think his ability to take in the words, figure out their meaning and come up with a response is mostly beyond him. Although he sometimes can surprise me by coming out with some gem of an answer that shows that, at least at that particular moment, he has grasped exactly what is going on.)
So where does the release come from? It comes from the fact that in some weird way, now that he has progressed so far, I feel absolved of my duty of trying to make him happy, of visiting him, of taking him out to lunch, of playing a game of Scrabble with him. I have done my share of this over the past few years, especially after mom died (which was five years ago this week). I don’t feel the need to check in on him and make sure everything is okay. He has an army of kind, caring people taking care of him, ones whom he recognizes almost more than his children. And I feel for the first time like I can really let go of that part of him that has resided in my brain for my whole life and just focus on ME. Even as I write this I feel the guilt and shame and thoughts of selfishness that over the years have caused me to stop everything in order to help him in some way. I know I am and have been a good daughter but I will always feel like I could have done more…it’s the nature of the beast. So before you start saying that he could still enjoy my visits, I know that. The thing is, I don’t enjoy those visits, and I have done a LOT of things I didn’t enjoy in order to make him (and my mother before she died) happy. Call me ungrateful, but stick a fork in me, I am done.
So what now? Well, I will continue to explore my artistic life. That is the most exciting thing for me. In the past year or so, I have been able to develop, expand, deepen, and redefine my creativity. My plan is to continue this exploration. My experiences with dementia will, no doubt, show up at some point. I have signed up for a trip to Namibia in November, which will bring about a long-time desire to go to Africa. And I plan to spend more time simply being…but that is the start of another blog post. Stay tuned…
I’ll end with one of my favorite photos of the recent 2 1/2 foot snowstorm…Ginger always expresses my sense of tiredness better than I can…