February 16, 1916. That’s 90 years ago, and the day my dad arrived on planet
earth. Actually, to be more specific, a small farmhouse in The Netherlands.
90 years and many miles later, he’s living comfortably in a nursing home
about 20 miles and 30 minutes from my home. He’s a long time victim of
Alzheimer’s disease. We joke that he has the “good kind” of dementia, because
he’s content, even happy at times, and still has a positive outlook. “We keep
on trying” is something he’s said for many years, and told me once again
He still remembers me, and my wife Kathy. It’s unclear how many other faces
he might recall, but then … there aren’t that many faces left. I’m an only
child. My mother passed away close to three years ago. His brother died many
years ago, and his sister passed away just last year. In fact, he is my only
remaining blood relative of that generation. Most all of his friends have gone
on before him as well.
Perhaps it’s for the best that he has that “good kind” of dementia. The kind
where his wife still seems to visit him regularly, and he takes trips to visit
some of those friends, or make business trips to facilities long gone.
Occasionally he talks about getting a car again, but then thinks better of it.
He lives an active life in his dreams or his dementia.
He doesn’t remember, of course, that his wife has passed. As I said, he
tells me occasionally that she’d just been there before I arrived, or that she
“must be out shopping” and will most likely return soon. I actually like to
hope that he might be right, and that my mom is, in fact, keeping him company
and watching over him. It’s what she did.
He’s deaf as a doornail, so “conversations” are somewhat one-sided. Even
then, it’s sometimes difficult for him to complete a thought. I just listen.
Even as a family in earlier days, it was enough to just be together –
conversation wasn’t always required anyway.
I debated about getting a birthday card, concerned that it might confuse
him, but not so. It took him a minute to grasp that the words I was pointing to
on the inside of the card said “Happy Birthday”, at which point he said
“Whaddaya know? I forgot!”
“So how old am I?”
90! (using my best from-the-diaphragm projecting to a crowd LOUD VOICE – the
staff always know when I’m visiting)
Wow indeed. 🙂
Though to be fair, it was last year he was telling everyone he was 100, so I
wasn’t sure how he’d react to the truth. Apparently he’d forgotten his earlier
mis-remembering. 90’s impressive enough, for so many reasons.
As I’ve said to many, I have a great deal of respect for, and am very
grateful for, the staff at his nursing home, Providence Marianwood in Issaquah.
I can’t conceive of a better place for him.
We could all wish for as much.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
(I’ll also use this to recommend to anyone who’s read this far to consider
A Letter To Myself.)