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A Beautiful Mind

Saturday, Oct. 01, 2005 5:43 PM

When I was young, I marveled at my father's ability to solve crossword puzzles rapidly, in ink. It was common for us to buy crossword puzzle books and compilations as gifts for his birthday and other holidays (he got a few ties from us, too).

He took me to see, "2001: A Space Odyssey," and brought home audio documentaries about the Apollo Program when he went to Washington, D.C. on a business trip. He would take the family to the aquarium and other science museums.

I never looked at my father in the terms that young boys often do ("My Dad is tougher than your dad!"), but as an intelligent man, worth emulating, who taught me the core values of hard work, responsibility, and courtesy.

But he wasn't perfect. There came a point when he began to suffer from a drinking problem, which grew progressively worse. My Mom led an intervention, and Dad agreed to go through a rehabilitation program. He made the changes he needed to turn his life around, and all of us learned something about ourselves in the family counseling sessions that came with the program.

It's possible, however, that the damage was already done. Several years ago, Dad began experiencing memory issues, unusual for a man his age. Eventually, a diagnosis was made.

My father had an Alzheimer's-like condition.

Initially, that didn't change much. Dad's lapses in memory sometimes became a topic of humor (though that may have been a defense mechanism within the family to avoid having to acknowledge the grim reality).

For my own part, I tried to treat Dad as if nothing had changed. When his memory failed him, I would simply answer his question as if he'd asked it for the first time - even if it was the fifth. You see, if they realize they've forgotten, and you point it out, you're calling out their shortcomings; if they don't realize it, there's no reason to criticize - it's not as if they deliberately chose to forget, or if there's a chance they'll remember if you talk louder or more slowly.

But slowly, his condition grew worse. My sister raised the question of whether or not we might have to eventually put Dad in a care facility, though my Mom wasn't willing to consider it at first.

It almost broke my heart on one visit when, as I was leaving, Dad tried to remember my wife's name, and couldn't. You could see that he was trying, but it just wasn't coming up. I interrupted him and told him it was all right; I would pass his love on to her.

Over the past couple of years, I'd started taking him out to dinner every couple of months. It gave Mom a chance to go out with her friends, and kept me in touch with Dad, since I live about an hour away.

The last time we went, he didn't talk much, and he got confused as to whose plate was whose.

That was just over a month ago. And within the past couple of weeks, my Dad's condition seems to have taken a downturn. It's become common for him to imagine things - the presence of a visitor at the door, interactions with family members that didn't happen, and so on. He's capable enough to get out the front door, so he can't be left unattended. Nothing has changed; the doctors haven't found any other physical anomalies that would account for this sudden downturn - it seems to be the normal progression of the disease.

My Mom has finally acknowledged that we'll have to put Dad in a care facility before the end of the year. He'll be close by, and, hopefully, we'll be able to visit him.

But what has hurt most of all is losing him without him truly being gone. Thinking about it and talking about it is difficult; I have found myself crying at work, or been unable to sleep.

One of the odder things about this is that, during our dinner together last month, I noticed his hands looked more frail, as if he were much older. I wondered if the disease was catching up with him.

And it was.

I accept his condition, and understand where it must ultimately lead. I'm not looking for a miracle recovery, or divine intervention. I don't have any self-recriminations as far as 'I should have done more,' or 'I should have been there.' It's a burden of grief, intimations of my Dad's mortality.

I love you, Dad.

The Ministry has received 1 comment(s) on this topic.

Jo - 2005-10-02 22:57:06
I guess I do have a bit of the "I could have been there more" with my dad. I didn't go to visit as often as I would have like to looking back on it, or I could have written him. Talking on the phone didn't work well because of his hearing loss. But I didn't think about writing letters until after he died. I was so wrapped up with work and with being sick and scared to be near him then, but using being sick as an excuse not to see him get frail, too. When I thought Fiain was hurt this morning I was scared I had waited too long to get him to the vet and to where he could get a better home. I'm glad he's okay but I will miss him a lot. And now that I've started the process it can never be the same. I love you Jo