Going Home

My father holding my daughter, 1991

My father holding my daughter, 1991

 

 

(Click here to read on Huffington Post)

Tonight, my mother and my brother moved the bed out of her guest room.

Tomorrow morning, a truck will deliver a hospital bed to take its place.

And sometime after that, an ambulance with my father in tow will make the trek from the hospital to my mother’s and father’s home.

Only a week ago, he was sitting on a bench in the warm afternoon sun surrounded by loved ones, relatives, and friends, greeting and shaking hands with anyone who wanted to see him.

Six days ago, he was sitting on his own couch with his beloved dogs, Molly and Cassie, by his side.

Five days ago, he was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother eating dinner before walking around his house, checking and touching this and then that as he moved from room to room.

Three days ago, he was shopping with my mother, helping her push the shopping cart. But his hand kept dropping from the handle. He couldn’t hold the grip with his right hand.

The ambulance arrived and whisked him to the hospital. It appeared to be a mild stroke, and the staff decided to keep him overnight just to watch.

Two days ago, my dad didn’t get to go home as planned. He had a rough night and started having a bit of trouble swallowing. The doctors had some serious, painful talks with my mother. They used words like “new baseline for his alzheimers” and “might not get better”.

One day ago, Dad didn’t get to go home as planned. He had enough trouble swallowing that he didn’t eat, and he didn’t get out of bed. The doctors had even more serious conversations with my mom. They said things like “can’t go home without round-the-clock care”.

Today, my father didn’t get to go home as planned. He failed yet another swallow test. The doctors had more bad news. They used words like “hospice” and “quality of life”. But then, with my mother’s gentle cajoling and patient care, my dad ate some mashed potatoes and pudding. His first food in days.

Tomorrow, my dad is going home. He won’t walk through the door, and he won’t sit on the couch with his beloved Molly and Cassie. But he will be home. Around those he loves and those who love him. My mom says, “We’re just going to go home and live our life.” Sure, it will be with hospital beds, and nurses and social workers. But it will be home.

Tomorrow, my dad is going home.

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About The Video Of My Father And Our Dog

Mom and Dad, Thanksgiving 2013

Mom and Dad, Thanksgiving 2013

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of spending a little bit of time with my dad who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. I’ve written quite a few posts about our family’s journey through this terrible disease, and the support and care from family, friends and even strangers has been a comfort not only to me but to my mom. She has faced the biggest impact of anyone, and the grace and dignity she’s exhibited is nothing short of a miracle. She is the living example of what it means to live out your vows of for better or for worse and in sickness and in health.

My parents have two dogs in their home, one of which, Molly, is my father’s constant companion. More than once, I’ve watched him coo and talk to Molly even as his ability to form sentences and find the words he needs to communicate has deteriorated.

Dad in his favorite chair with his favorite dogs.

Dad in his favorite chair with his favorite dogs.

When my father and I arrived at my home yesterday to give my mom an hour to run some errands, our own family dog, Roscoe, greeted him at the door. For the next hour, my father petted and talked to Roscoe. Not wanting to lose the memory of the moment, I filmed a few moments of his interaction with our dog, amazed at the clarity of my father’s words.

That evening, I watched the clips of videos and wanted to share the moment with my mom and our family. I wanted a memory for all of us to hold onto and spent some time editing the clips into a small video with the help of my teenage son. Once we were happy with the video, I created a personal Youtube account and uploaded the video, sending my mom the link. I also shared the video on Reddit from an account that prior to this post had next to no activity.

I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimers or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.

And for those who continue to send messages offering to monetize the video, I’m not interested. This was a tribute to my father and the celebration of a beautiful moment within a tremendously difficult journey my mother and father are facing. So thanks, but no thanks. It’s not for sale.

The Most Beautiful Gift Of All

Dad at Dinner

Today I saw love.

True love – the kind that is full of patience, kindness, and gentleness.

My father, who has advanced stage Alzheimer’s, has always been a quiet, gentle-natured man. He is the father who calmly read his newspaper while the neighborhood kids engaged in a water fight that often sloshed as much water inside as outside. He is the kind of man who, upon his youngest daughter (that would be me) rushing into the house and informing him that she left the scene of an accident in order to come get his help, calmly bundled up his daughter into his own vehicle and drove back to the scene of the accident to calm down the other irate driver. He lived through the terror of bombing raids and constant shelling during the Korean War; the noise and chaos of ordinary life were music to his ears.

But his Alzheimer’s has started to eat away at his ability to cope with unfamiliar surroundings or noises. My family and my brother’s family joined my mom and dad today for lunch, and their normally quiet, peaceful home was filled with the noise of laughing children and happy conversation. These are the noises that used to make my father happy. But today, they caused distress.

And in the midst of his distress, I witnessed true love.

His long, thick fingers, calloused from a lifetime of hard work, are intertwined, clasped tightly into one solid fist hovered over his lap, his knuckles white from the strength of his grip, his arms quivering as the tension ascends from his hands and spreads through his body. His baseball hat is pulled low over his forehead, his eyes tightly closed against the chaos all around and the swell of emotion inside. A single tear escapes and rolls slowly down his cheek. He unclasps his hands and carefully wipes the tear away. He looks at me, and I put my hand on my father’s knee and tell him that it’s ok – words he has uttered to me at so many points on my life. His eyes tell me things are not yet okay.

My mother squats in front of him and cups his head between her hands, gently and slowly caressing his neck, his face, his head. He rests his hands on her arms, the tension dissipating as she leans forward until his forehead is resting against her own. Over and over, she whispers to him, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m here. I’m here. You’re okay.”

He opens his eyes and looks into hers, safe now that she is there. He rises from his chair, clasps her hand, and soaks in the comfort of the voice of his wife.

Next month is Valentine’s Day. A lot of industries will deliver a cacophony of ways to express love: expensive bouquets of flowers, boxes of prettily wrapped chocolates, elegant dinners that all cost far too much simply because it’s Valentine’s Day. And don’t forget the paper cards with messages made up by someone else that only require that we scribble our name before sealing the envelope. There will be a plethora of products exchanged next month – all in the name of love.

Those things are nice, and I’m certainly not saying I don’t like gifts. I do. In fact, I really do.

But love?

I’ve seen love.

It is the most beautiful gift of all.

Promise You’ll Remember

Sometimes the most powerful reminders of what in life is actually important come from the most simple of phrases. Tonight I hugged my father, who is valiantly battling the loss of his own memories against his ever progressing dementia. He held me tight just long enough to say, “Be sure you remember this one, won’t you?”.

I will.

I promise I will.

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Sometimes Words Aren’t Necessary

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My dad and I have birthdays two days apart, so growing up we often shared one Red Velvet Cake. Somehow it made it more special. He’s been on my mind a lot this week, I think because our shared birthday is quickly approaching.

He’ll be 81 and is struggling with some of the beginning stages of dementia. Although his memory is better some days than others, the thing I see him struggle with the most is just being able to find the words to say what is on his mind. The thoughts and emotions are there, but all too often he works to bring out words that just won’t cooperate.

We met last week for breakfast, my parents and I, and his hearing aid was being repaired. It meant that he missed out on even listening to our visit. It had been a particularly rough week for me, and as I shared some of my worries with my mom, Dad sat quietly across from me smiling from time to time. And as we readied to leave, I reached out to hug him goodbye. He simply gathered me up in a long hug, kissed the top of my head, and said all the words I needed to hear.

“You’re mine,” he said. “You’re mine.”

Sometimes words really aren’t necessary.