My sister, mom, and I took our own Father’s Day party to the nursing home this year. Judy sped upstairs to get Dad while Mom and I set up refreshments and gifts in a quiet area of the lobby. When Judy wheeled Dad into our circle of chairs, he looked happy to be coming to a happening with family. Not just the alert acquiescence of watching a Lucille Ball movie, or listening to Music with Rick, or laughing at giggling-baby YouTubes with me and a smattering of his Alzheimer’s hallmates. He smiled big and reached for Mom to give her a huge smooch on the lips with the gusto of a soldier returning from war.
Throughout the party he had grins for Judy and me, too, though he didn't know our names. We had to keep reminding him we were his daughters. He seems to know we’re family, and family is all that matters to him these days. It’s another way his world has gotten smaller, I suppose—from being a part of all our lives, to knowing names and relationships and small bits of our lives, to remembering relationships but not names, to recognizing faces as “family.”
The party menu was specially chosen to include his faves: lemonade, brownies, Snickers ice cream, and chocolate syrup. Any wonder why we kids love chocolate? Judy and I inhaled our sundaes, Mom delicately, slowly finished hers, and Dad eagerly scooped up large spoonfuls. When neither Judy nor I could open one of the lemonade bottles, Dad offered to do it. So did Mom. This small act touched me. In their stronger years, they were always quick to our rescue; even now, as diminished as their strength is, they do not see themselves as helpless, but wanting to help.
When Judy and I gave Dad our gifts—shirts, what else?—we explained loudly and distinctly he was our father and that day was Father’s Day and we wanted to honor him because we appreciated him as our father. He beamed at each of our many repetitions of this fact. Unlike last year’s Father’s Day, I think he “got” the meaning of the party.
Not only that, we asked him to read his cards out loud. He defers reading so often to us, we were delighted to hear him read all the cards, with only a few words flubbed, (perhaps because they were script fonts). We all sensed he understood the sentiments on the cards, too. Maybe not completely—who knows?—but enough that we felt our goal of communicating warm fuzzies was a mission accomplished. Though we cannot take credit for anything but our effort, we can be pleased that today’s party results exceeded last year’s, which is rare with advanced Alzheimer’s. Feeling we’d on some level helped him feel loved was a gift for us worth way more than shirts, sundaes, and sentimental script!