Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – April 21, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – April 21, 2004 – My father was as devoted a person as anyone I have ever known. I don’t think I possess the heart it would take to make twice-a-day visits for years, to a loved one who was deteriorating in front of my eyes. I like to think that if I’d lived in Owen Sound I would have visited frequently, but I’m not sure.
Birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays were difficult times, trying to have a degree of normalcy within a hospital setting, and celebrating amidst unforgiving sadness. The guilt of leaving her behind when we went elsewhere to enjoy festivities gnawed at the back of my mind – little rodent’s teeth – sharp and busy, a constant reminder that all was not well.
However, the hospital visits did provide my father with a routine for his day. He visited after lunch and again after dinner. He got to know all the staff and some of the relatives of other patients. Sometimes he took a book and read while Mary snoozed on her bed. He never resented her illness and he didn’t complain or moan about the unfairness of it. I know he was tired at times and he missed his wife and his home life.
He socialized with people when he could. He had a number of friends where could just drop in and always know he was welcome. Sometimes he stayed for a meal and others he just said hello, chatted for a few moments and then left. When his cat Maxwell died, my brother and I encouraged him to get another pussycat but he refused. He said that he just didn’t want to be responsible for anything more than was absolutely necessary. I didn’t understand at the time. I thought it’s just a little cat, but I know how he felt, now that I’m older.
As 1987 drew to a close, Mary’s health steadily deteriorated. She didn’t have much energy anymore. Her fight was gone. The odd glimmer of her former self emerged, but very infrequently. She had no idea who any of us were. She didn’t talk about family, friends or home anymore. She picked at her food at meal time and spent most of her days strapped in a wheelchair or lying on her bed. Her short term memory had been gone for years and the comfort of her long term memory faded more and more every day. There was no longer any spark of defiance. The disease was killing her on the inside and she was just waiting to die on the outside.
My father had suffered a major heart attack during 1985 and another less severe one in 1986. He was looking after himself as well as he could and doing a good job of it all, but I know the loneliness ate away at his soul. At sixty-five he was still running his business and his work gave his days a much-needed focus. The nights alone in a huge three storey, four bedroom home were the saddest.
He had been a man, happy to be married, his wife the centre of his life, and his partner was gone. During the years of my mother’s illness, one of the most difficult things my brother and I had to do was accompany my father to a meeting with the hospital staff, to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order for my mother’s chart. His hand was shaking so badly he could hardly write, when he signed his name to that paper, but he recognized it was what she would have wanted.
To say that there are no happy moments during the dirty, down and out struggle with Alzheimer’s wouldn’t be true. The person you love is inexorably changed in mind, but their physical presence remains with you. Moments of sublime humour exist, never deliberate, present due to altered behaviour and long lost inhibitions. The key is to look upon the new person who stands before you, love them as they are, and cherish the memories of the person who has departed.
Support for remaining family members is essential. If you are a son or daughter with a parent engaged in this battle, try to remember and respect the history that exists between a husband and wife. Understand that one parent is watching the other’s life dissolve in slow motion. Be patient and be kind. Remember that there is so much we don’t understand in this life, and the painful mystery, that is Alzheimer’s Disease, when resolved by death, undoubtedly makes sense in the journey of that person’s soul.