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A daughter remembers when Dad forgets

A few years ago, I shared “A Daughter’s Journey,” a look, through my eyes, at my mom’s journey with ovarian cancer. I had so many people comment on the article. Many have realized the same struggles.

When Mom’s life was coming to an end, she voiced concern to me about leaving Dad behind. Dad was struggling with early onset dementia. It was not too progressive, but we knew it soon would be.

My husband said, “If your mom dies, your dad’s struggles will become far worse and his dementia will progress significantly faster.”

That would never happen. Dad was the smartest and strongest man I knew. He would figure out how to move forward. He had a great family to support and love him.

However, for those of you who have been touched with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, love and support cannot cure what ails you.

Shortly after Mom passed, Dad became very anxious. Sleep was interrupted all night. To make matters worse, Mom died in March and dad lost his driver’s license in June — his second great loss in a short period of time. Being able to drive is independence and freedom. He never recovered from or accepted that loss. The disease was progressing faster than I thought possible.

Many people will remember seeing Dad walking around town. You may not have known him, but his presence was obvious. I tried hard to get him involved in activities to keep him occupied, but walking made him happy.

He would walk for four hours, twice a day, rain or shine. During my lunch, I would drive around looking for him to be sure he was OK. I visited with him first thing in the morning, and before I went home at night. Several times, I would make an extra trip to town late in the evening to help him calm down or to rest.

One evening, he heard a noise outside and decided to discover what it was. It took several hours to clear his mind and get him to go back to bed. I stayed at his house as often as possible. When we were together, he was a bit more at ease, although I heard him wandering around the house in the middle of the night.

In March 2016, we moved Dad into Turning Brook Retirement Facility for more consistent meals, companionship, and safety. He needed activities that would not include walking the streets all hours of the night. He still walked all over Alpena — until November.

After two welfare phone calls from coworkers at the Alpena Police Department, we knew we needed to take his walking privileges away — another huge blow.

Less independence, less freedom.

However, his safety was important. He didn’t like it, but eventually understood. We moved him to a secured area of the facility. He had a beautiful room, but being cooped up created a new set of challenges. Lack of exercise brought on fluid retention and congestive heart failure.

As parents get older, you realize how tough they are, but you wonder, how much more can they handle? Even during his darkest days, when asked how he was doing, Dad replied, “100 percent.”

He believed in positivity. In my lifetime, I saw him cry only a couple times. Toward the end of his life, he was a bit more emotional, because he struggled expressing himself. However, at times, he would cry, because his life was blessed with wonderful friends.

He cried the day my mom was buried. He had no idea when he would see his best friend again. She kept him safe. She was his everything. My brothers and I called her the “Boss.” He was the career man, but she ruled the roost. When she spoke, we all listened. Yet, his presence and strength were obvious.

When he knew his memory was failing, he said to my husband, “I don’t ever want to be mean.”

Everyone knows, some people with dementia become nasty. He did get agitated, tried people’s patience, and said words he never would have in the past. But, for the most part, he was jovial.

One day, on our drive back to his apartment after a day in the woods, we sang together. And, since neither of us could carry a tune in a bucket, we laughed when we were done. On my birthday, we spent another day at camp trudging through the woods looking for buck rubs. Before I dropped him off, he wished me a happy birthday — literally the best birthday present I ever received. He remembered on his own. What a gift!

For two-and-a-half years, our roles changed.

I became his decision-maker, his caregiver, his rock, and his friend. But, he was still my dad and the person I wanted to share everything with. In the moment, our conversations were engaging, though I knew he would soon forget. We held hands and hugged more than we ever had. He was truly my world.

I miss my parents every day, and cry often, but I know how lucky I am. Many people don’t have someone to love for even a day. I had 48 years with Mom and 51 with Dad. I am blessed with the relationship I had with my parents.

But the time I embrace most is my individual time with Dad as he was approaching his final days. Hand-holding, stories about family, hugs, and feelings of love. Although I would not wish dementia on anyone, I cherish every moment I spent with Dad while he was putting in his time, waiting to see my mom again.

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