Everyone is celebrating Father’s Day today. Well, except for those who’ve lost their fathers. They’re posting old photos on Facebook and saying how much they miss their dads. For them it’s a painful day, just as is Mother’s Day without a mother. It’s what happens, though — best case scenario; children are supposed to outlive their parents. I recently wrote about the fear of losing my mom. It’ll happen one day. And I’ll lose my dad one day, as well.
But really, I’ve already lost my dad. Sure, he’s still breathing. I called him tonight to wish him a happy Father’s Day. But our conversation didn’t last long…pretty much the bare minimum. My sister’s taking him out for dinner. This is how that’ll go: He’ll ask, “What are we doing here?” Having dinner, dad. “Have we ordered?” Yes, dad. “Have we eaten?” Yes. “What’d I have?” You had the chicken. “Chicken. Did I like it?” Yes, you did. “Are we having dessert?” Yes, dessert is coming. “Oh, good!”
He can’t carry on a conversation. He can’t read a book because he can’t remember beyond the page he’s on. If he watches a movie, by the time it ends he’s forgotten what happened in the beginning. And the middle. “What’s that all about?” he’ll ask. He can answer all the questions on Jeopardy, though. And he’s not bad at Wheel of Fortune. He loves Criminal Minds and says each of the stars’ names out loud, elaborating on some: Matthew Grey Googlebobber! Kristen Vangenessessesss.
Even when he isn’t say things out loud, he’s speaking. Whispering. Mumbling. His mouth is always moving, giving voice to the words that are rolling around in his brain. Our minds are never quiet, I guess. But he’s endlessly speaking his. And I don’t mean opinions. More like unrelated words. Names of people he went to grade school with. Random bits of information from his corrupt hard drive. He can’t hold still. His fingers tremble. He taps his feet. His head wobbles. Watching him eat soup is horrible. And humbling.
He’s driving my mom crazy. Every morning she nags and cajoles just to get him out of bed. He needs to be reminded multiple times to shower. Take his pills. Change his diaper. To do anything. Yet in his uselessness, he’s still sweet. Every day when she leaves he asks my mom if there’s anything he can do for her. (Not that he can actually do anything…) And when she comes home he offers to take her out for dinner.
Once upon a time my dad cut an imposing figure. He commanded authority. Six-foot-four and dashing in his pilot’s uniform. A shaggy dog story teller and hail-fellow-well-met. Charming and handsome. Now he’s stooped and feeble. Shuffling along with a walker. It’s awful. Getting old is just awful.
I suppose I should be grateful that I still have my dad, that I have both my parents. But dementia is heart-wrenching. Like watching a beautiful watercolor get caught in the rain. Soon there will be nothing left but a white page… It’s a horrible thing to say but death would be better than this state of suspended animation. I’d prefer to remember him as a whole, vital human. Is that terrible?
Not knowing what day it is or even what season it is isn’t living. Moving from bed to bathroom, kitchen table to La-Z-Boy and back again isn’t living. No friends left alive. No one to visit him. My sister’s kids are great with him, bless them, though recently he wasn’t able to recognize her eldest. “Who’s that guy?” he whispered to me at dinner. Yes, he’s grown taller and his voice has changed, so he doesn’t look like a kid anymore. New information. Zero retention.
We console ourselves with “At least he’s not violent.” But is that a good benchmark? A proper way to measure one’s existence? His heart is still strong and his lungs are in good shape so he could, conceivably, live another bunch of years. I think it may kill my mom. She’s wasting away. So yeah. Happy Father’s Day. And apologies for this being less than cohesive. It wasn’t easy to write…