Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'd like to meet the guy who invented Alzheimer's

It was actually the third time I told him he has Alzheimer's. He took it about the same as he did the first two times I had told him. He grew somber, serious, and had little to say. "Asi es la vida", he said with a gringo accent and a defeated smile that wasn't a smile at all. It has never been Dad's way... to put up a fuss.

It was easier for me this time. I guess you get better with practice, including the devastating task of telling your father he has a terminal illness that will slowly smudge him out of existence. The first time I had to tell him, it was so that I could explain to him why he had to move in with me. The second time was to explain why he could no longer drive his truck. This time, it was to explain why he couldn't rent a car to drive to Idaho and visit my mother's grave for what he has now taken to calling "one last time".

Dad was supposed to die young. That is what he planned, and that is what we were all conditioned to believe from the time we were small. His own father passed away at 44, and Dad didn't see his life playing out any other way. Mom would talk in her imagined time frame of "after Daddy's gone". "This will be a great car for me to drive after your father dies." "After Daddy's gone, I suppose I will spend most of my time at the temple." and so on. It was just understood that Dad was some how weak and frail, and his two subsequent heart attacks left little doubt for anyone that Mom would be proven right.

A year after Dad retired, Mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died three weeks later. Yes, that fast. Mom died first.

But Dad didn't.

Mom had been larger than life. She could talk anyone under the table and had no need to sleep... she could literally talk all night. When I would call for a visit and Dad would answer the phone, it would be a short few moments before he would replay his old, "Well, let me pass the phone to your Mom." and that would be it, the end of our conversation.

When Mom died I called Dad every day for months. At first our conversations had been short and awkward, but as the loneliness set in, he began to talk more, listen better, and I began to get to know my dad for the first time in 32 years.

But all that is changing now. Our conversations are getting shorter. He disappears for hours into a dream world, he wanders, he stares at the fish tank for hours. Heck, he stares at me for hours. And the conversations that we do manage to have have changed as well. There are now about five of them. We recycle them over and over. The weather, the rocks in my yard, the fish, when trash day is, and now, lately, going to Mom's grave.

So I told him again as gently as I could, about his condition, about why he can't drive anymore. "Do you have any questions?" I had nervously asked. "Just one... you don't get better from this, do you?" "No, Dad, you don't." I said softly. I thought of trying to look for a bright side, but there is none. What more could I say?

"So I guess if we're going to Mom's grave I'd better do it sooner than later."

"That's a great idea, Dad." I said, trying to sound cheery for his sake. He was quiet, then the phone rang or a child cried, I don't remember which, and I left for a moment. When I returned and he had a broken look on his face.

"Are you OK, Dad?" I asked feebly, knowing it was a stupid question.

"I'd just like to meet the guy who invented Alzheimer's." was all he said, and he turned back to look at the fish.

So would I, Dad.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

Oh Laine. This is pretty great. Makes me cry. You are a WONDERful caregiver! I just wish we could be neighbors and caregive to all our little sweetie peeties, our husbands, your dad, my mom, my dad,and my English Grandma (who is here now too ..and has some dementia too).......and of course each other! Love you!