Friday, January 15, 2016


A cardinal’s call from high in a cottonwood, a clever license plate like MOTIV8, a wooden model of the 1936 Cord automobile my father loved, and many other delights remind me of my father. News from universities he attended and the high school where he taught, newspaper articles about real-life mathematics applications, and tennis tournaments also brought a big grin to his handsome face and so now remind me of him. Alzheimer’s changed his appearance and his delights, and he had the disease for so long. What? Twelve years? Fifteen? No one can remember now. Because my strongest memories of him are the recent ones when he was hunched in a wheelchair, pasty-skinned, pear-shaped, weak, I feel a bit disoriented to see earlier photos of my father in his prime—tall, tan, slender, strong.

During his final three years in the nursing home’s Alzheimer’s unit, his delights were so different from those of his younger decades. Although his grin was not as quick or as big as it was before, until his last few weeks, he still liked to smile. He no longer waxed poetic as he fingered his burgundy and tan Cord model; he didn’t know what it was. He didn’t get out to see funny license plates or hear cardinals, and he couldn’t read much or comprehend news either. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease!

It is now two years after my father’s passing. I didn’t want to cry writing this, but so much for my resolve. I miss him so much. And you know, I think I grieved the loss of the brilliant, athletic, powerhouse of a papa twelve or fifteen years ago. Now I keenly miss our simple, little, weekly nursing home visits and grieve the loss of his later, diminished, helpless self. Both men were sweet and kind. And of course, both my dear papa.

Cleaning out a closet today, I mustered courage to deal with a forest-green cloth bag crumpled on the floor from being nudged by my toe further into the shadows these last two years. When my father was in the nursing home, I kept this cloth bag in my car at all times. I called it my bag of tricks. I’d park at the nursing home and grab my bag of tricks before trotting up to Dad’s room. Usually he liked to listen to his favorite music cassettes and hear about family, but just in case conversation lagged, which it often did, I could pull from my bag a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle, a little book of jokes, or a picture book of animals. He especially liked pictures of puppies. I also carried his tennis hat to shade his eyes in case I wheeled him outside in a courtyard for an ice cream social or just some sunshine and a breeze.

Week after week, he enjoyed stunning nature photos in this Portrait of the Planet TIME Living Wonders book. He couldn’t even read captions, let alone narrative, but he liked the pictures. And if his fingertips sensed he had turned multiple pages by accident, he smooshed pages apart until he was sure he hadn’t missed any pages. I provided color commentary as best I could. During the elephant, zebra, and giraffe pages, I recounted his and my mother’s adventures on an African trip. He smiled in wonder that he had ever really been there and seen these
animals himself. About the swan photo, I told him what fun he’d had watching swan eggs hatch each summer. The tree frog photo reminded me of one of the For-children-3-and-up jigsaws he and I frequently did, so I mentioned that. He nodded in agreement, whether out of pleasantry or comprehension, I do not know.

Every so often, Dad had his own comment about a nature photo. Upon viewing this photo, he once said, “That guy needs a new face!” I still laugh about that.

As I go through physical reminders of my precious father, I’ll no doubt feel various emotions. I’m grateful for friends and my church’s grief support group in the first year after my father’s death. The second year saw many lonely tears springing from spontaneous memories. As I enter this third year, I’ll gather courage little by little to look at physical reminders, too. It’s going to take time, I can tell. To be continued …

No comments:

Post a Comment