Today, one thing became clear: my dad is gone.
He’s still alive but his essential personality and intellect are gone, along with his memory. His spark. My dad was a very smart guy, highly analytical – actually a systems analyst with a finely-honed sense of humor, despite his rather serious, Spock-like exterior. Back in the day, all of us kids in the neighborhood called him Blazing Bob. He could get fired up and he also could fire off. There’s an epic tale that involves my dad chasing my brother and his friends (including my now husband) up the driveway and down the road and he was able to keep pace with the teenagers. My dad doesn’t have Alzheimer’s; Alzheimer’s has him and it’s taken him somewhere none of us can access. And he ain’t never getting out.
I was out by myself and took advantage of a beautiful morning to go in search of some summer footgear on sale. I had coffee, stopped for a couple of donuts and had on Backspin (which, incidentally was spinning some serious classics (Jam on It, by Newcleus; Rappers’ Delight, Sugar Hill Gang; and some Run DMC). Nobody was there to change the channel so I got to sing in the parking lot and I wouldn’t know what I would do if I ever forgot the words, or ever forgot that I ever knew them at all. That’s the kind of crap Alzheimer’s does.
We used to joke around, in moments of forgetfulness, that we had Assheimer’s. It always got a good laugh. This is real and I assure you, it’s not funny at all, although sometimes we do have to laugh at some of the non sequiturs that my dad says ( example: last week he told me that the garbage collided with my husband’s personality). Sometimes when I’m with him he refers to me as his lady friend or companion, and he’s not really sure who I am 100%. Other times, he refers to me by name in my absence, and knows who I am once I am there with him. It’s crazy. Today as I was driving, he reminded me that I was going to stop for gas, prompting me that my turn was coming up. His sense of direction is still pretty good in spite of the fact that he’s just not sure where the heck he’s going most of the time.
“Yesterday’s just a memory, tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be.” –Bob Dylan
My dad was never a talkative person but since his Alzheimer’s has progressed, he has talked more and more. It’s almost like, if he keeps talking, maybe everything that’s jumbled in his head will all finally be purged, where it can then be rearranged properly and his thoughts will make sense again, each word, a glyph in some anagram written in an ancient tongue. Get that all put back together and life can go back to how it was. How it was.
That’s the even crazier thing. As this effed-up disease progresses [ actually it’s a regression] memories just disappear and then suddenly it affects day to day interaction and the relationship you had with this person is now almost foreign. Communication changes, everything changes and memories keep dissolving. For the rest of us, we don’t have Alzheimer’s but all we have anymore are memories and the present moment. The future is coming and parts of it aren’t pretty.
Alzheimer’s will most likely take him permanently. The journey to that place, my friends, will have some pretty dark moments for everyone it touches. I wonder if my dad knows that this disease wants to keep taking anything that’s left of him – of who he is. Does he understand it on any level at all? Does he have any sort of meta-cognition to stop and have a flash of “oh my gosh, I am losing it rapidly every day, whoa, stop this thing I want to get off!”
Trust me, Alzheimer’s isn’t a complete joyride for my mom, either.
My husband called me as I was on the way home and told me that he had just ran into my mom at the grocery store near us, that she looked completely disheveled (sorry, Mom for divulging that and don’t put my hubby back in mother-in-law purgatory for saying that!). My father jumped out of the car as she pulled into a spot out front and got away from her. Hearing this, I felt my knees weaken and I felt nauseous. My mother went into the store and in some cosmic serendipity, there was my husband checking out. She explained what happened, that Dad didn’t want to go to his day program [ read: day care] so he kept threatening to open the car door and jump out, so she turned around to pull into Community Market and that’s when he bailed.
They found my dad a few minutes later wandering down near the liquor store. I know what you’re thinking: the old guy remembered where the liquor store was. Not at all. Actually, my dad was a pretty healthy guy. Didn’t drink much. Occasional smoker, who stopped eons ago. Basically, gave up his fun and his vices to do the dad thing and now look at the mess he’s in. Maybe he’d have been better off to loosen up a bit more. He probably remembers that part now: “Shit, I just remembered, I forgot to have more fun.”
Alzheimer’s Crazy Train
I met my parents at my house and told my mom to go do her errands and her thing; Dad could run to take my daughter for her check-up. In the car, Ozzy’s Crazy Train came on the Boneyard and I couldn’t help but observe the irony of the whole scenario. My husband’s dad has been having health problems and that right there, is a whole other story, which I’ll have to go into another time perhaps.
So it’s another day my book is on hold to attend to kids and parents. I’ve heard about this (oh God, I forget the right word!) Sandwich Generation, but I’ll additionally call it the Hammock Generation. Our parents and kids anchor us, and we try to support it all in the center, balance it, with nothing but air to buoy us. It’s all about balance. Everything. If you’ve got somebody to help it makes the balancing easier or at least more pleasant, then that’s excellent.
“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” ― Steven Wright
When I took Dad home, Mom was there and as she looked around for something, she cheerfully declared, ” I live with a crazy man and a dog that has diarrhea! So how was your day?” It’s got to be hard. And I’m sure there are times of total despair and frustration that my mother probably wants to scream, in hope that perhaps the scream will drive out the things, the mind-snatchers, or if she would scream loud enough, my Dad would hear her clearly. Her words will all makes sense, and he’ll come back already. Her husband, her partner, is gone. Most of the time my mom is pretty patient and zen-like. She wasn’t always very patient when we were kids and most likely, we didn’t deserve a lot of patience. God saved the gift of patience for when she became “Nana” and now when she really needs it. I’m not sure how I’d cope if I were in her shoes. I’m considering re-negotiating my marriage contract to clarify that “In sickness and in health” does not include Alzheimer’s and the disease should be banned from all humanity. I told my husband that should I get in that condition, to put me out of my misery.
Dad became agitated again, after being relatively calm all afternoon. He got angry and accused Mom of calling him stupid. He was upset about my daughter and her friends dancing in the front yard. He wondered what the German Shepherd was doing out front (I actually have a German Shepherd, but he wasn’t at my parents’ house at that time), and was just generally anxious and annoyed. At one point before I left, he showed me his Mind Start puzzles. He pointed out one that he said was really tough. It has 26 pieces.
Savor the Present
My kids are 11 and 14, brother and sister, and sometimes they bicker and fight. As I made the bed this morning, one of the early shows had some footage of Jack and Kelly Osbourne battling it out and it hit a bit too close to home so I shut it off. This evening as I sat on the bed and hung out with my husband we could hear our kids playing/arguing/fighting in the other room and since we were still feeling a bit of the edge of this whole day, we got a little annoyed. Then we stopped. Suddenly it was like we both zoomed out over the whole series of the day’s events and could see it telescoped. Everything came into focus and that moment was suspended in time, in perfection with all of its imperfections.
I knew with complete conviction that I would rather be here in this house, this space, right now in this moment. Our kids are here. We are all together, safe and healthy. When it’s gone and we look back ( in anticipation that we have our faculties and are able to reflect) we will remember and know just how perfect this is right now. In the future, we can sit with the remembrance from time to time, when the house is quiet except for the clear and reassuring whisper from this and other memories.
“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” – Kevin Arnold