Thursday, June 7, 2012
A Moment and a Day with Dad
Yesterday we talked on three different occasions about today. I would pick him up at 6:30 a.m. and we would be running errands all day and bringing Rita to the groomer. He was not to eat as we would go to breakfast together. A note on his kitchen counter and a phone call at 6:00 a.m. Should be enough reminders of the days’ events. I show up and he’s eating his breakfast with no idea we’re going anywhere.
After I remind him of our plans (choosing not to mention the breakfast thing but making a mental note to myself to get something to eat so my blood sugar doesn’t tank), he cleans up and is ready to go. He tells Rita to behave while he’s gone and he heads for the door. I come up with a quick, non-threatening way to remind him that Rita has a groomer appointment. “Oh yeah, that’s right”, he quickly responds.
His response for about two years was always an epiphany. Like he knew it but momentarily forgot about it, thankful for the reminder but acting as if he had not forgotten it. Mom knew better before any of us did. I learned quickly. It began subtlety at first but grew in frequency. Now I’m fairly confident it is merely a coping mechanism so as to avoid conflict or an inevitable feeling of low self-esteem. No matter how hard he tries and regardless of how well we act through the situation, he knows enough of the truth and I can tell it wears on his assessment of self-worth.
We talk in the car on the way to the vets. He asks several times, “Where’s Rita?”
“In the back seat enjoying the ride”
“Oh yeah, that’s right”
We continue our conversation – he talks about his childhood home, the neighborhood, and the railroad tracks that ran behind their house. He talks about hoping the train as a young man to go to work in Boston and we compare that to our long drives or walks just to get to the store in Montana. He then talks about Florida and how much he wants to return – to the Tallahassee area. I gently remind him that we are trying to relocate but it will be in the Dunedin area. That always surprises him – even after we have had this conversation countless times before, and will have it about five times today. A few moments of silence go by, maybe ten, sometimes fifteen minutes, as we both watch the scenery go by. Inevitably he will see something through what I’ve come to call his ‘snow glasses’. He’ll say, “I bet this hill must be closed off in the winter time”. It’s the same hill each time. It used to drive Mom and I a little crazy and I remember gazing in the rear view mirror to see Mom smile, roll her eyes, and just lean forward to pat Dad on the shoulder.
We drop Rita off at the vets – the one Dad swears he’s never been to before but where they all know his name, they all miss Mom, and they greet us with huge smiles. For the next six hours, while Rita is being bathed, clipped, groomed, and a few needed shots, Dad will mention several times that we should get home soon because Rita may have to go out after being locked up in the house this long. My heart sinks every time.
We stop for lunch at the same restaurant we stopped with Mom. There’s a wonderful photo of the two of them, one of my favorite photos, in that restaurant the day we found out Mom had cancer. Mom had grilled cheese, Dad had his BLT, and I had breakfast. It was the same menu for us today – sans grilled cheese, her amazing wit, and huge smile. Twenty minutes later Dad has no recollection of a restaurant, stopping for lunch, or eating a BLT. I feel Mom’s hand reach from the backseat to pat my shoulder. All is still well with my soul.
My brother had called a few days earlier and tonight, after he called again, Dad immediately called me. He was all excited to ‘finally’ hear from Glen after several months of him not being able to get through on the phone. The same story when his brother, Uncle Keith, called from New Hampshire. Tomorrow he will have no recollection of that. When asked if he hears from his brother or from Glen, he will ponder a bit and say, “I’m sure I have but I can’t recall the last time I spoke with either one of them”. When pushed to consider how long, his response ranges from a few weeks to several months. Mom – I need that pat on the shoulder again, please…thanks.
For those for whom it has, indeed, been awhile since contact, it would seem to you up front that it doesn’t matter. He won’t remember so why waste the time and energy, right? A poor, sad, and self-serving excuse. The man is slipping for those he speaks to every day as well as ones he doesn’t.
I have to figure out if short-term memory loss is only hard on those around the victim or if it’s also difficult for them. Dad knows he occasionally forgets things. He will openly tell you he’s never sure what day it is, what year or what month we’re in…he’s just glad when it’s not snowing. But this type of loss is devastating to those around him. It makes life more difficult and challenging. Creativity AND patience absolutely must go hand-in-hand. I think that is why so many people will avoid being around Alzheimer’s patients. They lack creativity and patience. They are not capable of swallowing that initial, “UGG” upon hearing something for the fifth time in an hour and they lack the creativity to pretend they are hearing it for the first time. Some try but fail miserably and the patient knows something is wrong. You can actually see them quickly retreat into their mind to figure out if they just said something wrong, offended someone, or…well, who really knows where they go, right? But when people say things like, “maybe its for the best” I stop and ask, “best for whom?” Seriously. Best for who, that the one you love has no idea he just had a wonderful lunch with you? Best for who, that he struggles with this and probably internalizes most of it which actually only serves to feed the disease even more? It’s not best for them – they are forgetting and forgetting is not synonymous with abundant blessings and the grace of God. Best for us? If it’s best for us – then why aren’t “us” spending more quality time with them?
We are losing Dad. Those of you who know him and have had personal, meaningful moments in your life with this man are losing him. I hope you are not losing out on the opportunity to continue knowing this man even in light of this disease. Every day that goes by that we decide not to visit, not to call, not to write him – is a day lost. We will never have that day back again. Mom taught us all through our lives and especially in the last couple of weeks of her life, that every single moment is a treasure that you need to save and store in your heart. You need to treat the moment with respect and be thankful to God for allowing us the opportunity to embrace every moment and one another. When Mom told me, upon her death bed, “Kurt, how is it possible that I am loved so much?” it moved me like nothing else ever has. For in that moment I realized that Mom has received the greatest gift one could receive in this life – that at the final hours of our life on earth, we leave with absolutely no doubt that we were cared for, and loved.
We highlighted our day today but doing something that brought both of us some tremendous joy. We remembered all those who cared for Mom and for those of us who sat with Mom through chemo and radiation. We brought cookies to radiology/oncology, and medical oncology today. We were greeted with warm smiles and we shared stories of Mom and talked about what a powerful impact she made on our lives. It was good. Dad and I talked about how it felt to walk those halls without Mom. We shared a few tears but mostly we smiled, and knew that Mom would approve because we were going out of our way to let someone know how much they are appreciated, respected and loved.
Don’t allow this moment, right now, right here – to slip away unnoticed. Don’t allow any one person in your life leave this world today without knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how much they are cared for, respected, adored and LOVED. The missed opportunity today could be your last chance.