It’s been an enjoyable couple of days as I tag teamed with my Uncle Robert in entertaining Dad while Mom and her friend Judy escaped to the beach for some much-deserved R & R. It is early Monday afternoon as I multitask from a recliner in the den of my parent’s home. Dad is entertaining me with the horoscopes from Saturday’s paper as we sip lemonade, watch MSNBC and I begin writing this column.
It has been a whirlwind of a weekend for Dad. A few days earlier Robert picked him up for a 3-hour trek north to their old stomping grounds of Florence where they spent the day with long time friend Judge Ed Tease for a trip down memory lane. Saturday morning they toured some of Dad’s old haunts, across the river in Sheffield, then made their way back down to Birmingham for an overnight visit with my Aunt Lynn and Uncle Steve before spending Sunday afternoon at a cousin’s hunting camp in Greensboro.
I wish I could tell you we spent hours talking about his weekend trip when Dad returned home Sunday night. But that wasn’t the case, as those who have experience with someone who suffers from mid-stage dementia knows. Dad lives only in the long ago past and the immediate moment.
By morning there is no memory of yesterday. I observed with a bit of sadness as he peaked out from his bedroom door several times trying to comprehend my presence as I put on the first of several pots of coffee. He eventually emerges and is surprisingly quick to remember Mom is at the beach, hence the reason I’m standing there in my pajamas. I imagine every day is like a jigsaw puzzle to him, but he can seldom put together any of the pieces. How frustrating that must be.
While he might not remember the conversation we had just moments ago or that he has already polished off two bowls of ice cream as he goes for a third, his long-term memory hasn’t suffered to the same extreme and he can still recollect memories, recall names and tell stories from the distant past. He just can’t find his way back to the table after a trip to the restaurant restroom. But, he is capable of retaining the positive vibe of having had a good time. And we are fortunate that he still knows all of us, including the grandchildren.
So, instead of asking specifics about his weekend trip we would just talk about Florence in general as I encouraged him to tell me stories of the past. We shared a few laughs and an early dinner out. Despite the dementia, as Dad has adjusted to his daily routine, he can be very pleasant company, but that is easier for me to say, as I’m not responsible for him on a daily basis.
It is my mother who has been the rock through this entire ordeal. Actually she has exemplified strength throughout my entire life and I don’t know what I would do without her.
Mom is the true sufferer of this debilitating disease. She is the one who endures the brunt of the confusion and anger. It is her life that has been interrupted. It is her husband of 55 years who one day will not recognize her.
While it has been a difficult several years for all of us, I don’t think it is even possible to imagine what Mom deals with as the daily caregiver.
My advice to the many others who have loved ones suffering from dementia is allow them the moment and make it wonderful, because that is where they live and that is all that matters. “Live for Today” – it’s not a cliché, it’s a way of life in the late stages of dementia.
I readily admit that as I have witnessed my father’s decline I selfishly sometimes think of myself or more importantly my wife, Betsy and daughter Olivia. There is a lot of my father in me and all I can do is hope this dreadful disease that has caused such an intelligent man to lose his brilliance, doesn’t get me too.
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne