Saturday, July 16, 2011
Chapter 3: My Father's Apocalypse "Signs"
Dad’s Alzheimer’s didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. There were signs for years that something was not quite right. Looking back, it is easy to see the signs for what they were: Alzheimer’s slowly coming to life inside of my father’s brain. My dad has had symptoms of dementia for seven years now. Of course, at the time we had no idea that was what it was. At first it was little things that we teased dad about, like his ever increasing reliance on Post It notes. We would find them in the strangest places: hanging in his truck next to the steering wheel with the words “GET GAS” printed in bold letters, scattered on the dining room table with his self written commands to “TURN OFF SPRINKLER”, “BUY MILK”, and “GO TO BANK”. I use to joke that The Post It Corporation’s profit margin was probably going through the roof thanks to the single handed efforts of my dad. Now I can look back and see where my dad was trying desperately to work around his slowly decreasing short term memory. Finally in 2003, he quit work with the pharmaceutical company where he had been the route supervisor. The entire family thought it had to do with his increasing health issues with ulcerative colitis.
Later, after my father was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he admitted to me that he had quit because he was so humiliated at not being able to remember tasks that his direct supervisor assigned to him. My father, the type A, ultra responsible man, could not find a way to circumspect his failing memory, so he blamed it on a more socially acceptable physical ailment, and quit work for good. My dad, a man who had always prided himself on his self sufficiency could not bring himself to admit to his family or others of a weakness, regardless of the fact that it was an illness he had no control over. In his eyes he still had to take care of us. He had to stay strong.
After he quit work he busied himself in his yard projects. The projects didn’t just stop with his yard though; they leaked into my yard. I would wake up on a Saturday morning and hear the lawn mower rumbling outside my bedroom window, peek through the window blinds, and see my dad puttering around the lawn on his riding lawn mower. I would come home from work to find him just finishing up weed eating around my driveway. I had two teenage boys who could have done the work. When I would reprimand the boys for not taking care of the lawn, they would insist, “He doesn’t give us time to do it. He’s here before we have a chance to even get out there”. To be perfectly fair to my dad though, I’m sure my boys took advantage of their grandfather’s motto of “Don’t put off tomorrow what can be done now”. I would beg my dad to allow me to cut the grass, but he wouldn’t hand over the riding law mower. One time I became very insistent and he relinquished and taught me how to use the mower properly. After that I was able to pry it out of his hands a few times. I truly loved riding on that mower, but dad still saw it as “his job”, so my times of mowing the law were far and few between. Most of the time he took care of the lawn duties while I was at work, and I didn’t have any choice but to hug him and just say, “Thank you, dad”.
He still loves to work in the yard, although now mom has to push him a little. She has to push him to do a lot lately. If left to his own devices he would just sit in the house and never leave. Since my mother has quit work, she asks him to complete projects in the yard and he is more than happy to do them. When she asks him to paint the steps, weed eat around her flowers, clean the gutters, he does so enthusiastically, but, more often than not, he has to have these tasks suggested to him now. Alzheimer’s is stealing his ability to even self motivate himself.
Posted by Liti