The words sad and frustrating come to mind when dealing with my dad, a once brilliant scientist and man of superb rational thought, whose face now scrunches with bewilderment when I enter his home as his sluggish brain tries to piece together who I am and why I’m there. Sometimes he’s successful, more often than not he isn’t and the pain cuts deep.
It’s a strange place to be, the daughter who always looked up to her dad as a constant source of guidance and strength, who now gets to be the parent. Such a common circumstance in our society, yet odd beyond measure when it hits close to home.
Slowly explaining to the man who taught me to ride a bike and tie my shoes how a tuna sandwich gets made is not something I enjoy. Yet I do it with a smile, hoping it’s enough to hide my jumble of pent up emotions and deep feelings of inadequacy.
Hard to explain where that comes from. I love my dad and know he loves me but we have always struggled with a wall of distance between us. In a weird way our relationship now is more intimate, as the disease that eats away at his brain also punctures our respective emotional protective barriers that were long ago hardened in place. Vulnerability is welcome here in this new spot and love more easily flows.
I will always regret not pursuing this closeness more aggressively earlier on and it almost makes this new intimacy seem contrived, somehow undeserved. It doesn’t really matter. It’s time now to reciprocate back all that my dad has done for me, a tremendous task that’s impossible to pay back in full.
I also think of my mom who is still very with it mentally and physically and who deserves a hero award for repeating a thousand times daily the patient acts of kindness that goes in to his care taking. It breaks my heart to think of the vibrant intellectual life they once shared and what it now resembles; she constantly reminding him of life’s rules, “brush your teeth”, “don’t forget your pills” and “no, showering is not optional”, and he pushing back until finally caving like a child who realizes fighting will get him no where.
Such is the circle of life and to struggle over where that circle begins and ends is really pointless. The importance of the here and now takes precedence and the honor of caring for a loved one in their most vulnerable moment is truly a gift. Realizing this amidst the muck and yuck of hot emotions is the only way to stay sane.
And really there is some joy in this too, especially in watching my siblings step up to contribute, each in their own way; with all our unique personality traits fitting perfectly to the task at hand. We’ve become closer as a result and more aware I think of our respective value to each other and our parents. My dad was an amazing man before the dementia but I think especially so afterwards, as the family he created rallies together to deal with this new normal of absurdity.
We are fortunate beyond belief to all have each other and the financial resources to deal with this situation as best we can, something my dad made sure of. I am absolutely certain he knew a time like this would eventually come and made sure the logistics were in place for us to set in motion.
Life is always precious, no matter the physical or mental condition of the body. Who are we to assign less value to a man because his mind is failing and his legs are weak? To judge the road one is forced to take as not fair and unjust? A painful and probably undeserved journey yes, but one loaded with blessings if you give up control and acknowledge there is a bigger plan being worked out here, a higher purpose you are assigned a sacred role in.
”For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.” I take great comfort in that.