I saw a father carrying his daughter today. She had her arms around his neck, and seemed happy. I could tell she felt safe, secure in the knowledge that her dad would take care of her, holding her through the scary times. I wanted to tell her to hold on as tight as she could for as long as she could. Because at some point, she would need to hold on to that memory as tightly as she was holding him now.
I was that little girl once. It doesn’t seem possible, but it was over 40 years ago that I would have been her age. Here is a photo of me on my 3rd birthday, happy to be in Daddy’s arms!
I can remember coming home after car trips out of town – maybe we were at the beach for the weekend or just at my grandmother’s for a family gathering – but I would often fall asleep in the back seat and Dad would carry me into the house. Even when I didn’t really fall asleep, I would sometimes pretend I had, just so he would lift me up to carry me inside and I could put my arms around his neck and hold on tight. I am sure I did this well past the age where it would have been easy for him to carry me up the long flight of stairs in our house. But he never complained.
I still want to put my arms around him and hold on tight – as if that would keep the Alzheimer’s at bay. My heart wants to believe that if I am strong enough for him, I can hold on to the man that I know and not let him slip away. But each time I see him, I realize that no matter how hard I hold on, I am not strong enough to fight this disease – it will win in the end. And that breaks my heart.
My mother and I are exploring options for when he can no longer live at home. We visited 2 places this past week – the first was an ideal setup in a less-than-ideal location over an hour from home. The 2nd was much closer, but we were less impressed. Fortunately, we are not in a rush to make a decision, so we may look at some more locations. But it will have to happen sooner rather than later. And in visiting these memory-care units and looking at the rooms, it has begun to hit me that this is real.
I wrote about Blessings recently – looking for them even in the difficult times. I had a hard time finding the blessing in the death of a young father. And now I am having a hard time finding the blessing in the decline of my father. I suppose it has given me the chance to find out more about his life, both in talking to him about the distant past (easier than talking about the present and recent past that he doesn’t remember) and in reading through some of the documents and mementos he has held onto over the years.
For instance, I asked him about his naval service when I was visiting last week. He was commissioned after attending college on an NROTC scholarship and went to Supply School right after graduation. He couldn’t remember where it was, but he knew it was on the East coast. The next day, I was going through a box of papers and other items and came across a letter presented to him when he retired after 30 years in the Navy. It mentioned that he had attended the Supply School in New Jersey – I was glad to know that detail that his memory has taken from him.
I also got to look through his high school yearbook. He was apparently on the school newspaper staff and was in the Senior play. In the class predictions, he was most likely to become a priest – I’m glad he didn’t follow that path or I would never have gotten to know this amazing man. He has always been my sounding board, listening to my troubles and when asked, offering advice. He has always been a kind, polite, caring person, demonstrating respect to those around him. And his smile fills his eyes when he is pleased.
After spending 4 days with him, I had to come home, a home that is almost 900 miles from where I grew up. I cried on the plane back, missing the man I knew and missing the one I spent time with last week. He may not remember that I have been teaching for more than 2 decades or that my brother is married with 3 children, but he is still a good listener, still a gentleman. And his eyes still light up with his smile when he sees me. Even when the day comes that he doesn’t remember my name, I hope I can find the smile in his eyes.