Yesterday was Father’s Day. My father has never gone in big for what he called “artificial” holidays, but that never stopped me from celebrating them. My husband and I gathered a large bouquet of mountain laurel from our property, bought a vase, and braved the endless traffic jam to dad’s assisted living facility. We had our two cats with us, so they were stuck in the bathroom while we tried to find Dad.
No one seemed to know exactly where he and his lady-friend had gone. Finally, we found him watching Bridget Jones in the makeshift movie theatre. One of the nurses found him and told him he had visitors. When he walked out of the movie, he stood, blinking at me for a moment. I thought perhaps he was just getting his eyes acclimated to the daylight. I said “hi Dad, happy father’s day.”
He said: “what are you doing here?” I said it was father’s day and that I had come to see him. Again, he uttered “I don’t understand why you are here.” My husband came to my rescue and said “we came to bring you a gift and say hello.” Dad shook John’s hand. Then he stared at me. He shook MY hand and said:” What is your purpose here??”
By now I realized that Dad had no idea who I was or why I was here. True, he has Alzeheimer’s and I understand that as he declines he will become more and more confused and forgetful, but I wasn’t prepared for this.
I managed to conceal my shock, and suggested we go to his room so I could show him the flowers. I could tell that he was hesitant and confused, and he didn’t want to go, but his girlfriend started steering him towards his room.
Once inside he saw the flowers. I asked him if he knew who I was and he seemed annoyed, but said “you are my daughter” but he didn’t use my name. My husband and I sat him down and told him that we had been visiting him every week for months. He refused to believe us. He asked his lady friend: “were these two people here last weekend?” Much to my relief, she said that indeed we had been.
It isn’t the first time I had a talk with my father about his increasing dementia, but of course I realize that as it continues to progress, he will remember less and less of what I said, and finally, he won’t even know who I am. Intellectually I can accept this, but emotionally, it’s devastating.
I recently read Maureen Reagan’s book about her father, President Reagan and his final years battling Alzeheimers. It was so sad I could barely get through it. Now, I’m living the nightmare.
No one should have to go through the fear and devastation that this terrible disease inflicts. According to the Alzeheimer’s Association, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s has more than doubled since 1980. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will continue to grow – by 2050 the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s could range from 11.3 million to 16 million. In a Gallup poll commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 Americans said that they had a family member with Alzheimer’s and 1 in 3 knew someone with the disease.
I know why they call it the “long goodbye.”
Happy Father’s Day–not!