Sunday, October 14, 2012
The Heart Breaks, Even From Across an Ocean...
I haven't written about my dad and his Alzheimer's battle in awhile. And it's not because I have stopped thinking about my dad or grieving for him. I simply can't think about it. When I do think about Dad, I feel as if my heart is being physically torn from my chest, and I am left with the ripped edges of my skin bloodily splayed open. I didn't know that pure grief felt this deep, this sharp, this painful. So, I try not to think about it. I try to put everything out of my head as I go about my day to day business. I try not to let my gaze linger too long on the framed photo of him I have in my living room. In the photo dad is staring straight at the camera, my mom is on his left side. He is smiling, his teeth flash, and fine feathered furrows crease his face. His eyes are the deep chocolate brown of Nestle Toll House chips. They are clear and sharp, not muddled, lost, and perplexed. There is life in those eyes. There is still my dad.
I cry. I can't even think about him without crying. I miss him. I wish so many times I could have him hug me just once more and whisper in my ear, "I love you", but I'm afraid I'll never hear him say those words again. When I left Georgia, dad had already began his journey down the last winding tunnel of the Alzheimer's journey. There was no slowing it down, no bargaining with it. Today, my dad is living in the Veteran's Administration in Dublin, Georgia. My mother could not physically care for him and his needs any longer. This is how he wanted it to be. He told me, when he was diagnosed in August 2009, that he did not want this killing my Mom. He was adamant. He made me promise that when the time came I would make sure that he was placed in the V.A Center.. I promised him.
In late spring, Dad had started wandering from the house, growing more and more agitated with each passing day, not sleeping. He was restless, easily angered, suspicious.
In early May my father was able to water the grass, putter around the yard, and help Mom with dishes, but he wasn't able to do much more than that. He had already lost any interest in watching television; could not remember to pull the kitchen cabinet doors to open them instead of push them, would ask over and over again where Mom had gone if she even left the house for an hour; would dash to answer the telephone when it rang, but after the initial "Hello?", could not make his brain and vocal chords cooperate. Shortly before he was hospitalized for the first time in late May , I went to visit him and Mom one evening. When I pulled into the driveway Dad was struggling with the big green plastic city garbage can. He had managed to somehow roll it down the driveway, but when I arrived he was fruitlessly attempting to push the over sized bin instead of pulling. I got out of my car to help him, and the look of pure frustration on his face stopped me cold in my tracks. He pushed too hard and the entire bin toppled over with a hard thud, spilling trash all over the concrete. I helped Dad pick the can upright and then scooped the trash back in. I then showed him how to pull it towards the road. After a few failed attempts he finally managed to roll it clumsily to the curb. That's not how I want to remember my dad.
Now, less than five months later, Dad can no longer walk unassisted, can only eat with help, cannot take care of his daily hygiene needs or bodily functions, and he does not know how long he's even been at the V.A center. Every time Mom goes to see him (which is every other day) he asks in his own Alzheimer's language, "How long have I been here?" Mom always tells him, "Two weeks" and he accepts this without question.
I want to remember my Dad grilling hamburgers in the backyard on Fourth of July. I want to remember his face shining at me with fatherly pride in my stormy teen years, when maybe I didn't even deserve it. I want to remember the shine of happiness in his eyes when he held my minutes old daughter close to his chest while she cried and cried, and he smiled and smiled. I want to remember his excitement and joy at Halloween as he prepared for Trick or Treaters by donning his vampire or scarecrow costume. He loved Halloween. But Alzheimer's robs the family of those kind of memories. It dulls them, and leaves in their place helplessness, confusion, anger, grief, sadness, guilt. The last time I saw my dad, he smiled wide when I walked in his hospital room. I went to him, knelt down to the wheelchair where he was propped, and he clutched his thin arms around me as tight as he could, and he sobbed like a lost child.
My father now weighs about 135 pounds. He is a shadow of his former self. He is disappearing.
My heart is broken. Not broken to the same extent as my Mother's is, but broken nonetheless. Alzheimer's has robbed my family of dignity, decency, peace, and hope. And I will never forgive or forget..
I sit here and cry, and know that I have to somehow turn this back off. I can't think about it. I have a life to lead, things to do. I can't curl in a corner and wither, the way I want to right now. I survive by not thinking about it. There is no closure. Not now. Not while Alzheimer's eats my father alive inch by inch, memory by memory, smile by smile, There is no balm in Gilead..
And that is why I don't write about my Dad much anymore.
Posted by Liti