My father sits,
A blank stare steadily
erases the sparkle.
I watch him fade
to no one.
I am fading too.
No longer the man
He is the disease
A death he does not deserve.
Soon I will be forgotten.
Today we placed my father in a nursing home. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in early 2003. I began grieving then.
Actually, I began grieving 11 years ago when he turned 70. It took me nearly 3 years to come to grips with his mortality. Ultimately, it was a college level creative writing class that forced me to face my fears. With the poetry came healing and acceptance of the inevitable–someday he would die because we all die. Five years later the feelings resurfaced with the diagnosis and once again, I wrote through the pain and anger and frustration.
When something like this happens you can easily scare yourself with the thoughts that run through your head…
I wished it would all end right away. I didn’t want to wait it out. I didn’t want him to gradually fade. I didn’t want to gradually fade.
I was angry. Why this? He had always been such a rock, so independent and strong.
I was sad. Sad for him, for my mother, for my children, for myself. There would come a day when we would no longer be individuals, but a confusing collective mass of people who waltzed in and out of his day.
For two years all seemed ok. Not great, but ok. Then the disease began to take over. It became more than my father could hide or shrug off as simple, harmless mistakes. He couldn’t finish sentences. He couldn’t dress by himself. He began to hallucinate. My mother worked round the clock keeping him safe and comfortable, but soon she was worn out.
So, with much heartache and guilt and fear the decision was made to place him in the nursing home behind their little cottage. And once again, my emotions took me aback.
I was relieved. What had been sneaking up behind us for almost 3 years finally stared us full in the face. I would no longer have to wonder if he was safe at night after mom had taken out her hearing aids and became oblivious to the world. Mom could come to visit me again, something that had stopped once it became clear dad could not travel or be left alone.
I was fearful. What if he was angry we put him in the nursing home?
I was guilty. What if this is the wrong decision? What if he could have stayed at home? Aren’t we supposed to take care of our own? Shouldn’t I move back home and help out?
I was sad. My father had become a shell of a man. The only thing that remained was his quick wit. He couldn’t hold a serious conversation, but he sure could smart off with the best of them! However, most of the time he just sat and stared.
As I walked down the halls of the nursing home, I kept peering into rooms and thinking, “He’s not like that! He’s not that bad!” But, when we stopped at his room and took him in and told him this was his new home, his reaction was one of child-like complacency. He said it would be ok. He said he would take care of everything. It was then I realized I had faded. When I wasn’t looking, when I wasn’t paying attention, I had stopped being me.
So, I will take my place in the collective mass. I will bring my children to see Grandpa at the nursing home and remind him of their names. I will give him hugs and make small talk. I will reminisce with him about things he doesn’t remember simply because I need to remember. Then I will leave him in his little room and drive home. And for a while, I will cry–not because he is no longer the man I remember, but because I am no longer me.