(I wrote this Saturday but didn't want to post it until notification had gone out.)
My father passed away tonight.
I got the call from the nursing home at around 7pm, he had just died a few minutes before. The kind night nurse gave me lots of details, but I couldn't hear a thing she said. I was overcome with shock and sadness and the mourning I've not been able to have for many years. Though I knew I'd want to know what she was saying, I intensely wanted to be with my brother and sister, and hurried off the phone to call them right away.
Dave took care of the kids while I talked to my siblings and absorbed it all. I felt like I'd just lost the father I knew before Alzheimer's slowly chipped away at his mind, leaving behind just a few familiar gestures and facial expressions. It's like the whole 10 years of taking care of someone slowly succumbing to dementia never happened. Now that I could freely remember him the way he was, I really wanted to, so looked through some old pictures.
This is a rare photo of him and me, in January 1966 when I was 2. I have many memories of sitting on my father's lap and talking with him; we did that up until I was 11 or 12. I like this picture because it reminds me that he really loved me, even though I drove him crazy sometimes and we argued a lot.
Many photos of my Dad are with one arm leaning against something, the other arm perched on his hip, and with one foot crossing the other. I think this photo was taken on our 5-week summer cross-country camping trip, in our 1969 VW squareback.
Alzheimer's is such robbery. My father was only 78 when he died, but he was clearly showing symptoms when he was only 68. 68 and 78 are when I should really have been able to enjoy him, when his childraising responsibilities, and resentments at not really meeting them, were long over.
(November 1999 I think)
Though the logistics of raising children weren't his strong suit, he was always warm and loving and extremely affectionate with us. He'd have made a much better grandfather, when his childlike side could come out and be put away quickly as soon as children become annoying and are handed back to their rightful owners.
With time and age, disappointments and anger about childhood failings had been met and resolved and accepted, and given way to appreciating the many things we did share and the solid bond and love we had. I'd love to be able call him and share new insights or funny stories about kids, and listen to him marvel at some idea I had or laugh heartily at something I said. Alzheimer's took that away from us.
And now the good memories are flooding in. Some had been bad memories that I can now look at differently with the privilege of retrospect, and laugh about. Now instead of being sad that I can't call my Dad and chat with him because he's in late-stage Alzheimer's, I can be glad about the times that I did call him, before the disease blocked his mind and memories and ability to speak. Death brings with it closure, an elusive luxury for Alzheimer's families.
Now, I can finally remember my relationship my father in retrospect and smile about it.