I admit it. I am a Daddy’s Girl. My dad and I have always had a very special bond. He was my hero, my protector, my best friend when I was growing up. He still is. Except that now, I am taking on the protector role. The man I looked up to and loved with all my heart is slipping away to a terrible condition known as dementia.
At first, he just seemed more absent-minded than usual. I always considered him one of the smartest people I knew. But he could get so wrapped up in what he was doing that he didn’t always notice what was going on around him. That mental fog for day-to-day life wasn’t anything new – he had a very intellectually demanding job, and it consumed his focus for many years. But after he retired, it seemed to get worse rather than better. I think that is when we first realized something was wrong.
When he came to visit me a couple of years ago, I noticed that he would ask the same questions several times. “How long have you been teaching there, Chrysti? … That long? … Do you have a retirement fund with them? … How long have you been teaching there?” I didn’t mind responding each and every time he asked. I was just glad that he was so interested in my career. He had tried to talk me out of teaching for a long time! And at least he still knew I taught school. But there was clearly an issue with his memory.
Last year, his behavior started to change. He started to get ideas in his head that have no basis in reality. In October, he was visiting my brother for several days and in the middle of the night, he packed his suitcase, including all my niece’s toiletries from the bathroom, and woke everyone up saying he had to leave or he would be late for the bus. During that visit, he also seemed to have no idea who my sister-in-law was, even though she has been part of the family for over 20 years.
He came to my house for a visit recently, and although he didn’t pack everything up, he repeatedly said he needed to call his brother Jerry. The thing is… Jerry died 28 years ago.
We have seen his dementia progressing for several years, but the decline is happening faster and faster as time goes by. And recently, we found out it is more than just dementia. He has now been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That is a scary word. It may be naïve on my part, but to me, dementia seems like something that has a limit to it… he will be forgetful, but it will only get so bad. Alzheimer’s just keeps getting worse and worse. You don’t die from dementia, but you can die from Alzheimer’s.
I know that we all die at some point. And it would be really naïve of me to think that my 84 year-old father will live forever. But to hear the A-word and know how the story will end makes me very sad.
What I have to try to focus on right now is what we have right now. I still have my father. Not everyone can say that. And he still has his sense of humor, dry as ever! Recently, when I was trying to get to the city where he lives so I could bring him back to my house for a visit, there was a major snow storm that delayed my trip for 6 days. I talked to him every day, and at one point, when I expressed how worried I was about not being able to get there, he said, “Chrysti, it’s not the end of the world. We may be a block and a half from the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world yet.”
So, I will take each day as it comes, celebrating the fact that we are still a block and a half from the end of my world.