Every morning my Dad walks into the living room and stands in front of the big window. He looks out over the back yard. In our old house, the house that I grew up in, there was a bigger window to look out of and vast property. The property now is confined by a fence and the neighbors are just beyond it. He likes to do this, even when it’s raining. I think it’s part of his curious nature. He’s always been mesmerized by the movement of the outdoors. The water run off during the rainy days, the way the sunlight hits and the wind shifts as in passes us by. Sometimes I join him here and we discuss what we see beyond the window. In the old house, sometimes we’d see deer grazing in the pasture below. Now we see squirrels hopping along the top of the fence beyond the orange trees.
This morning as I joined him there by the window, we talked about what we saw. It’s been raining here for quite some time. Yet this morning it is sunny. I mentioned that maybe he could finally get out and ride his bike, something he loves to do. He shook his head and gave a slight smile which disappeared quickly and said “not anymore, those days are over.” Surprised by his answer I asked him why. He told me that he’s going away, he’s lived a very good life and Nani (my Mother) is taking him to a place soon where he will be taken care of because she can’t do it anymore. My heart got heavy as I watched him explain and I fought back tears. You see my Dad has Alzheimer’s. He’s been living with the disease for 10 years. Part of me believes that his answer is part of the confusion and his inability to process information and another part of me believes that he knows that a change is occurring in his day to day. My mother has been his full time care giver and they celebrated 50 years of marriage last year. They are soulmates and he’s truly lost with out her. In an effort to give herself a break and to bring increased stimulation into his life she has been taking him to a center one day a week. She can leave him for a few hours and he is involved in several activities. She’s talked about increasing the visits to the center to two days a week. My only guess is that my Dad views this as my Mom leaving him. My heart goes out to him, to her and it brings me great sadness to watch him navigate with this disease.
Alzheimer’s is a strange beast. If you were to look at my Dad he looks healthy at 79 years. It’s very deceiving though. He no longer drives, engages in conversation or does well in noisy areas or large crowds. He is great with small conversation and gives warm hugs. I have learned to appreciate the small moments with my Dad. He comes alive when he listens to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. He’s always been a great dancer, especially with my Mom. I see his light come back when he dances with her. Sometimes, I catch small glimpses of the person that I remember before the disease took over. The memories that I have I remember he was the life of the party, always out for a good time, loved to laugh and joke and spend time outdoors. Especially out and about on the property at the old house roaming and exploring the countryside.
There are four girls in my family and we’ve all had different experiences with my Dad and this disease. I believe though that I’ve seen more, experienced more because I have lived with my parents from time to time. My Dad has been slowly slipping away for the past 10 years. In a positive light I’ve have been the eyes and ears for my sisters. Early morning texts and late night phone calls telling them that Mom is exhausted, Dad is getting up again in the early morning hours. Thankfully we haven’t had a chance to oil the hinges of the doors in their house. The slight creaks help me to know when he wanders out and comes back in. Soon, I will be moving away and I wonder how my sisters will know what going on in this space. I wonder how my Dad’s day to day will be like as I will not be around to be a witness.
It’s been a journey for me. This experience has shaped me to hold greater compassion and patience, to become more intuitive with knowing when to talk with my Mom about how she’s feeling and when to take my Dad for a walk. I’ve learned time is fleeting. Aging is a part of life but Alzheimer’s isn’t. Taking care of myself has become more of a focus for me in the recent years. Becoming educated about early prevention is important as well. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to share this story and I end in tears every time. This is but a small part of the entire story. It’s hard to sit and write when I end up becoming a blubbery mess. When we are free from disease and healthy, there is so much to do and to see. We are not confined. Much like a fenced back yard can feel when you’ve grown up in the country. I believe Alzheimer’s has confined my Dad to his chair, where he snoozes and sits dazed. This new place he’s going to will help him to stay engaged and keep him busy and help my Mom take time for herself.
I’m not sure what the future holds or if he will be around when I have my first child. This brings me great sadness. I believe that my children will come to know a different Papa then the man that my current nieces and nephews grew up knowing. Yet for now he still knows my name and recognizes my face. Today, we will go for a walk down to the river and maybe we’ll dance on the back patio.