Alzheimer’s is a nasty beast. It seizes your loved one’s brain and steals not only their memories, but it steals their reasoning, their dignity, their strength…it makes your loved one tired and hopeless. You watch as they struggle between reality and their alter world. The world that they never feel safe. They worry about someone taking things from them, and they worry about someone trying to kill them. This sense of safety is so vital to our well being. It’s painful to watch. But it’s also painful because it robs us of treasured moments with our loved ones.
But, If you’re patient enough, there are good days too and the jewels come. Fortunately for us humans that we are emotional beings. If events in our lives are laced with an emotional tie, we usually get lucky enough to hold onto that memory. That is the sweet spot where I can collect my dad’s memories. That is the sweet spot that I’ve been able to go back to his love of writing and poetry and tap into the man himself. And my friends, it is beautiful. Sometimes it’s just a handful of words…but to hear a man who has been emotionally vaulted most of his life, the sound of emotion, any emotion, but especially joy, is like music lilting in the air and carried on the wind.
It’s cliché to say without the rain, you don’t appreciate the sunshine, but it is the analogy that fits this scenario best. If I hadn’t of gotten frustrated trying to collect dad’s memories, I wouldn’t have found alternate ways to reach him. And without these alternate ways, I imagine my stories of him would be devoid of any emotion or feeling and might be a little bland. I’ve been able to feel closer to my dad in this last year than in my entire life. I’ve been able to get past certain memories that are recycled and repeated to get to new stories no one has even heard. And, as I am entrusted with these stories and I manage them with care and respect, my dad, this often closed man, begins to look forward to talking to me. And for the little girl in me who always yearned to be close to her dad, it is pure joy.
The last time I visited my dad, sadly almost a year ago, he let me take silly pictures with him. Just before we went to the airport, I got this notion to take pictures because I wanted to savor the moments I was having with him, and I wanted to be “part” of the experience, not just a witness. I pretended we were in one of those photo booths and preplanned some pictures to take. Okay dad, “It’s time for me to go to the airport. Let’s take a few pictures together! We will take a serious one of course, but wouldn’t it be fun for the grandkids to see us let go and do some silly faces and fun faces and scary faces and just enjoy?” My dad replied, “sure!” (There was even a little enthusiasm there.) And, we did. And then this year when my sister, the photographer, visited him, she got dad to do the same thing with her. And the smile on her face was absolutely beautiful.
I am healing, and my family is healing…and it’s all through the power of words which were brave enough to hold a story, a living, breathing man’s story…I love you words.