Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Human Nature: My Dad

There were two times when I was a kid that I remember watching my dad disappear and being afraid that he wouldn’t be able to find his way back.
The first time I was very young, sitting on a dock, and the ball my sister and I had been playing with floated off beyond the horizon. My dad set off swimming to bring it back. It seemed too far for someone to be able to swim, and still return--but he did, pushing the ball ahead of him through the water.
The second time I was perhaps 11 or 12. Our car had just had some repair work done--faulty repair work, as it turned out, because it caught fire in our garage. The fire department would arrive and put it out, but before they did, as black smoke billowed out into the driveway, my sister and I cried for our dog, who was trapped inside. My dad dove into the smoke, and I was afraid that we’d asked for too much--that we would lose my father in addition to the dog--but out they both came, coughing and safe. 
Now these many decades later, my dad is in a care facility for people with Alzheimer's. The cruelty of this disease, of course, is that it takes away your loved ones, even as they physically remain with you. The last time I visited my dad, he fell asleep (as he often does during our visits) and after a while his hand rose up shakily, as if he were reaching for something in his dream. I grasped his hand, which woke him, and I said, “It looked like you were reaching for something. What were you trying to get ahold of?” And he looked at me and said, “Your hand.”  
And there he is, my dad, somehow swimming against the current, impossibly stepping out of the smoke--he comes back to us once again.




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17 comments:

  1. This is the sound of one heart breaking.

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  2. I'd give you a hug, but I have to get the lump out of my throat, first.  It's a strange journey we travel through life. Punctuated with such moments of clarity that the noise falls away.  Thank you for sharing that moment.  Hug.

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  3. My mom is slipping away into dementia, and I know how difficult it is to watch the ones who once structured buttressed our world begin to diminish. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. I know the feeling.  My husband (55 yrs old) has dementia, and he is different than he was most of our years together.  Every once in awhile I see then man I fell in love with, the man I sang around campfires with, the man who had a wonderful laugh and smile.  That I cherish.

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  5. And, when at last he is gone, these memories will return to comfort you.  What a guy. I'm so sorry you have to lose him like this.

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  6. Alzheimer's is so cruel.  And yet, he is not wholly lost if he reaches for your hand.  Some day, in a better place, you will know one another again without the cloud of age or disease.

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  7. This breaks my heart, the loss before they are actually gone. That instance of remembering, of reaching for your hand means everything.

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  8. Such a beautiful beautiful story.  A squeeze of the hand is really all that matters in the end, isn't it?  It's the best indicator I can imagine that he's still in there, loving and being loved by you. 

    Thus it was with my dad, too.  His squeezes could nearly break a knuckle, but we didn't mind.  

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  9. My mother's dementia was difficult to accept, but her eyes would shine if we talked about things from when we were children.  She didn't recognize her three adult children talking to her, but would nod when we reminded her of special events in our past.  Those positives were the ones I cherish.

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  10. That is very sad, but a beautiful way to remember your dad...always coming back.

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  11. Thanks, all. It's such a strange and difficult road--and so many families are traveling it.

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  12. Pat, this is lovely, and you still are one of the best writers I know.

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  13. Although my mom did not have Alzheimers, she was slipping away stroke after stroke. I understand and share in helping you ease your pain.

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  14. I'm sorry, Pat, that you and your father are going down this dark road, but there are those special times to remember. I remember the miracle of seeing my mother smile up to my father as he bent over her and took her hand, even though she was far into Alzheimer's. They were a devoted couple.

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  15. This is such a touching tribute to your dad. My heart goes out to you.

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  16. This is lovely and heartbreaking at once.  Thanks, Patty.  We lost my dad to dementia at the end, 18 years ago, and it haunts me still. 

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