In honor of Alzheimer’s awareness month, I wanted to share a personal story with you about my dad.
When I was around eight or nine years old, my dad took me sledding up the bank of the Eerie Canal as it was two houses down from our house. It was starting to turn dusk. It was cold, but I was begging all day for my dad to take me sledding. I loved alone time with dad. Up and down we went, maybe 30 minutes in total. On our last run down the slope, we came within an inch of the blade of a snow plow – literally just missed my eye. Dad must’ve had a heart attack (rightly so) and said that I was not allowed to mention this minor detail to mom. Of course, I didn’t want to ever betray my partner in crime… I have no idea if mom ever found out!
When I was a teenager, I helped my dad cut down dead trees and branches and walk them to our station wagon. It was difficult, but dad was really strong and I always wanted to help him. We had a wood burning stove in the basement in our house and we actually kept the fire going every single day in the winter. We would walk around (in January) in shorts and tank tops because my dad had that fire SO HOT. Dad was always the over achiever.
Some of the life lessons my dad taught me were to always turn off the lights when you left a room. You can relay any message over the phone within five minutes. It is better to be five minutes early than five minutes late. It is best to work through a problem with a loved one than to ignore it or walk away from it. Never quit a job without having another one lined up. Do your job to the best of your ability, be proud of your work.
He showed me how to laugh at yourself, and honestly, this was probably one of my most favorite attributes of my dad. Everyone, especially my mom, picked on my dad!! There was so much to tease him about. He had a very large nose, huge ears, when he swam, he sunk to the bottom of the pool – the man could not float. He drank a sip of oil (it was in a cup) thinking it was a cup of ginger ale. He went fishing one afternoon and when he returned home he went directly into the bathroom. He was in the bathroom for nearly an hour. My mother was quite curious and asked him if anything was wrong. After some back and forth chit chat, he finally opened the door. He had cast the line on his fishing pole and hooked his earlobe. My mom lost it, hysterical.
One day when we were teenagers, my parents were in a really HUGE fight. My dad went to give her a double middle finger “salute,” (middle finger on each hand) but instead of using his middle fingers, he used his pointer fingers. My mom busted out in laughter and that was the end of the fight.
There are so many more stories of how my dad was truly funny, without trying to be, but he was always a really good sport and l miss that.
One day when mom was sick, my dad and I were standing around my kitchen island and he told me that if he were to ever start showing signs of dementia, that I was to promise to tell him. We actually talked about it several times while mom was sick and dying.
Eventually, mom passed away and dad got remarried. Within one year of marriage we started noticing that dad was repeating himself. But dad always repeated stories – he was a great storyteller. But it was different. He would ask me the same question after I answered it the first time, second time, third time.
The Mayo Clinic Writes:
Everyone has occasional memory lapses. It’s normal to lose track of where you put your keys or forget the name of an acquaintance. But the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease persists and worsens, affecting your ability to function at work and at home.
People with Alzheimer’s may:
- Repeat statements and questions over and over, not realizing that they’ve asked the question before
- Forget conversations, appointments or events, and not remember them later
- Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
- Get lost in familiar places
- Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
- Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations
I found myself at my kitchen island with my dad, but this time I shared with him that I thought he was having issues with his memory. I didn’t know what his reaction would be. He looked at me like I was speaking Japanese. I repeated it. He said he didn’t believe me. That hurt, but I was doing what I promised him I would do – and I reminded him of our agreement.
Mayo Clinic Continues…
Brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease can affect the way you act and how you feel. People with Alzheimer’s may experience:
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Distrust in others
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Loss of inhibitions
- Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen
Many important skills are not lost until very late in the disease. These include the ability to read, dance and sing, enjoy old music, engage in crafts and hobbies, tell stories, and reminisce.
When dad was diagnosed with dementia, he refused to take any medicine to help keep him from getting any worse. A year later, he finally started wearing a patch that was replaced every morning. Dad’s wife had five children and they were living all around the US, so from time to time, she would visit and dad would stay with me.
Living Life with a 5thChild
I remember in August of 2013, dad was in the hospital for something with his digestion, he was losing weight. (He should’ve been tested for cancer….) The doctor came in and asked my dad some questions: What’s your name? “Donald.” Where are you? “Here” Where is here? “This building” What year is it? “ahhh… Let me think….I don’t know.” Who is the President? “Obama” When were you born? “April 17, 1938” Do you know what today is? “ummmm…” I looked right at my dad and said, “come on dad, you gotta’ know this!!” It was my birthday and I figured it was a long-term memory… he should know this!! But he didn’t.
Two months later dad was in my house for five weeks while his wife was visiting her children. I will never forget this time with my dad. It was a GIFT.
I got to see first-hand how my dad had changed. What Alzheimer’s did to my dad was made him a 70-something six-year-old child. I had to line up his cup, sugar, tea bag, spoon, bowl, cereal every morning for him. He never brushed his teeth unless I made a game out of it by setting my stopwatch to two minutes and saying, “on your mark, get set, go!” He would laugh while he brushed his teeth. He didn’t eat much and it seemed like he was forgetting how to chew. He would hide his food under his napkin and then throw it in the garbage so I wouldn’t find it. I kept bowls of snacks around where he would sit just in case he got a little hungry. He couldn’t sit and watch TV because he couldn’t remember what happened before the commercial break to understand the story going forward. He watched game shows, but in time, he couldn’t really sit too long as he got very antsy. He went to all of my French doors (I have seven) and took the keys out of every door lock and put them in his pocket. Somehow dad had gotten pink eye which meant he needed drops in his eyes, both eyes. UGH Do you all remember how hard it was to put drops in your child’s eye when they were six years old? He would lie down on my sofa and watch me come closer to his eye and as soon as I was about to place the drop in the corner of his eye, he would close his eye shut – tightly. I would start laughing which made him laugh. You can only imagine how long this went on for….
One time, I was so foolish, my dad begged me to go fishing. He told me not to worry about him because he had fished by my house many times, knew the area well, and knew how to get back to my house. He had his phone with him and off he went. Two hours had gone by (this was not unusual for dad) when I got a phone call from a crossing guard (near a school) who said she had my father next to her. She said he seemed a little confused and asked if I could come pick him up.
In the End
I remember my dad was sitting at my kitchen counter one afternoon while I was prepping dinner, I turned my back to him, closed my eyes and I whispered to God that I was incredibly thankful for the gift of the time with him. I also prayed that he wouldn’t die from Alzheimer’s because I never wanted to see him less than he already was.
What I didn’t know was that less than two months later, he would be dead, not from Alzheimer’s.