My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease this month. It wasn’t a total surprise, as we had been noticing him declining for several years, but it has still managed to turn my world upside down. He went from working full time to suddenly retired overnight, living by himself to moving in with my mom (which is totally weird since they’ve been divorced for almost 10 years), and he no longer remembers details of our major life events. By the time my one year old can have a meaningful conversation, my dad will likely not know who he is.
My mom’s mother also had Alzheimer’s for several years, so I am well aware of how it progresses. You see them die slowly, memory after memory, and start the grieving process over from the beginning with each new loss of function. After I heard my dad’s fate, I took out a DVD of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My mom had gotten it converted from VHS for me last year, but I had yet to actually watch it. It was time. As soon as I saw my grandpa greeting guests from a distance I felt the tears start. It was incredible to see him again. To see him rub his nose the way he always did, with his old-fashioned handkerchief, and help my grandma stand up from her chair. I watched my grandma stick out her tongue when she told a joke that she knew was good and realized I do the same thing now. Their voices were a little different than I remembered. By the time they reached their 55th anniversary she was well into the disease. I remember very little from before she was sick and hate that my five year old will now have the same trouble when he is older. I’ve decided I need to take more videos of him and “Pa” playing together.
Seeing my dad lose his preferred way of life has also made me question my own decisions. Is two hours a night and weekends really enough time to be spending with my kids? What will they remember when they are grown? My dad used to play board games with me after school. It was a fun time. After two games, if he had won one, and I had won the other, he would grin and say “You know what this means!” Time for a tie breaker. He tried playing a board game with my son a couple weeks ago and couldn’t remember which color peg was his from turn to turn.
I ordered some books to try and explain what was happening to my son. Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? What’s Happening to Grandpa? and The Memory Box are the ones I started with. If anyone has others they recommend I’d appreciate it.
I’m really not sure where I will find the strength to get through this. I’m already struggling with having enough time to work, take care of the kids and house, and trying to sneak in an hour a week to do something I actually want to do. How will I work in going to visit my dad and handle the emotional stress of doing so?
Months ago, as I explained this working mom struggle to my therapist, she told me I was dealing with a lot. She said if I was an Olympian, I would be a fancy diver. I thought about it and smiled. It’s true isn’t it? When you see that diver up there, concentrating, balancing, you kind of hold your breath for them. And then they jump up, do some inhuman like twisty flip things and hit the water with such accuracy they hardly make a splash. You let out your sigh of relief and might even clap at the TV. They’re impressive. And so are moms.
I just hope I don’t do a big ol’ belly flop.