My father is a caring, funny, delightful gentleman who enjoys a shot of scotch, loves potatoes of any kind, speaks Yiddish and loves to hear about his grandchildren. My dad also has Dementia.
It’s still hard to say it.
He is 89 years old, and he had a stroke almost 2 years ago, which apparently caused stroke related dementia. At first, it seemed like he was simply getting forgetful and was really tired. I’ll never forget the day he called me from his apartment and said, “I don’t know where I am.” I reassured him, went over and took him out for breakfast. I thought that might fix it. I slowly saw that things were getting harder, but he was trying hard to cope. He forgot appointments. He stopped going to his beloved art classes. He forgot to eat. He couldn’t phone us anymore. And then, he had that stroke.
To be honest, I didn’t cry about it very much. At the beginning, it was merely about survival. My sister and I had to make sure he was okay. We panicked. We tried to figure it out. We were in denial. We rushed to and from the hospital each time he was admitted. We begged the doctors for solutions. We hired PSWs and took turns being with him every day and evening. When we finally came to the point that we knew he needed more care, we found and settled him into his new home, a place that specialized in meeting the needs of people with Dementia and Alzheimers,, For the last 18 months, he has lived in this modern facility for those members of the Jewish community who live with these diseases. It’s a kosher place with fresh food, rabbi visits and Friday night services. They just remodelled it again and it is a beautiful place, with wonderful, sensitive people who care for him.
When he first moved in there, we were relieved. Of course, we had to get used to it, especially visiting him in a place where many of the residents were much more advanced in the disease than he was. So, we got used to it. What choice did we have?
Since then, he has had another, more significant stroke. This time, the stroke took away his ability to walk and created much more severe memory impairment.
I visit him 2-3 times and week, and so does my sister. If you calculate that (and I do), he gets a visit almost every day. When the grandkids are home, Zadie gets a visit everyday. He still communicates and remembers a lot from the past when he’s prompted. He smiles and, on a good day, will even laugh. He’s polite. Everyone there seems to like him.
I’ve come to terms with it, or so I thought. Over these past 2 years, I’ve told myself it’s out of my control. I’ve told myself that our job is to do everything we can to make sure he has the best care, and to make sure he is safe. I answer the question, “How’s your dad?”, usually with “the same”, but that doesn’t tell the story of my dad. I deal with the comments and looks of people who, I think, believe I should be caring for him 24/7 or that I’ve been selfish because I “put him in a home.” I can live with that. We spend $7600 a month (that’s just for the rent, care and food) to make sure he has what he needs. We are thankful we can provide for him.
So, we visit him, take care of his every need, and we love him – a lot. I thought I’d come to terms with it.
But yesterday, when I was sitting with him, I broke down and cried. I’m not talking about a few tears. I started sobbing.
I think it’s the first time I’ve really cried about the whole situation. So why today?
As I often do, I was telling my dad stories about the grandchildren, specifically one about my daughter who is living in Israel. She’s coming to visit from Israel on Shavuot, and she’s bringing her boyfriend with her. Every time I tell my father about this upcoming visit from his granddaughter who lives in Israel, he smiles and asks a few questions. I was telling him that he was going to have the chance to meet her boyfriend, Or. He was happy to hear it and said that he heard that Or was a nice guy.
In that moment, I realized that my dad couldn’t be part of the future of his grandchildren. Yes, we can talk about the past. But, even if my dad meets my daughter’s boyfriend, he won’t remember him. And this young man won’t have a chance to know my dad. He’ll see an old man in a wheelchair who can’t remember a lot, and who won’t remember him. And I know it would have made Zadie so happy to really meet him.
So I burst out crying. And, believe it or not, my dad asked me, “Why are you crying?” That made me cry even harder. I couldn’t tell him why I was crying. And I couldn’t stop crying either. I told my dad that I bumped my arm and that I was okay. He smiled – because he actually still wants to know I’m okay.
I know many are going through a similar experience. I hear it all the time, and I can nod knowingly, because I do know what they are going through. They are losing their parents before their eyes.
And sometimes, that makes a daughter cry.