Loving Dad at every stage
Each of the four stages of Dad’s dementia changed his personality a little, and I find myself missing not just ‘healthy Dad,’ but I also miss each expression of who my Dad was along the road of his illness.
The middle stage brought by far the biggest changes. He lost awareness of his illness and had terrible outbursts of anger almost daily. But he could also be very sweet, loving and self-sacrificing in his own way. He appreciated beauty, loved people and cherished hopes for the future.
Surprisingly, it’s this expression of him I miss terribly. He’s in the hospital now, the disease so advanced that he doesn’t notice the change in seasons. Some days this is too heartbreaking to bear.
Dementia in Springtime
Spring and summer bring vivid memories of my Dad. He was so antsy, he always had to be active.
So every day we went for a long walk, and we’d comment on the blossoms on the trees, and all the flowers we spotted along the way, and the different animals we saw, like a family of ducks or a stray cat. Each discovery filled him with joy.
This was after his first, life-changing seizure, the one that ushered him from mild dementia into the thick of the most chaotic symptoms.
At times it was easy finding distractions for him and other times it was nearly impossible. But I could usually rely on a walk to keep him in a calm, happy mood. Thanks to his stamina, we’d often walk for hours, consuming his nervous energy and relaxing him for a time. He was always delighted by the things we saw and the people we met on our spring and summer walks.
These days I can’t walk outside without grieving that he isn’t by my side. I can still hear his comments about the landscaping we came across and about his dreams for the future. I miss seeing his face light up with joy and his insistence upon petting every dog we passed and telling every young child how cute they were.
Springtime at the Hospital
I see him in the hospital now, where he’s been for a year. He can’t talk anymore and barely makes eye contact. He’s too weak to spend more than a few minutes standing up from his wheelchair.
Whether he recognizes me is doubtful. And my heart aches that I can’t talk to him like I used to and that he can’t dream about the future anymore.
He took his last spring walk in 2010, when he was too sick to walk faster than a shuffle, with Mom leading him by the arm. It was too challenging to change his shoes, so he walked in his slippers, barely aware of his surroundings.
I spent 2.5 years building a new kind of parent-child relationship with him during that time, and 1.5 years as his full-time caregiver so Mom could work. So while I find myself missing ‘healthy Dad,’ of course, I also miss the Dad I got to know mid-way through the illness.
I suppose when he passes away, I’ll miss my Dad in the advanced stage too. Now, at least, I can still hold his hand and I can tell when he’s happy, hug him, and tell him “I love you” and, when I’m lucky, I might even hear him say, “I love you too.”
I’ve been missing him for eight years now. But I especially miss him in springtime.