See that faint smile on his face?
Even the confusion of dementia didn’t prevent him from appreciating a lovely lady like his therapist. He didn’t really understand who she was or the purpose of the therapy, but he followed along because she was so kind and, yes, very pretty!
The dementia didn’t prevent him from being the manager that he was in a work career that spanned 45+ years. During those nine months in the Alzheimer’s unit, he often mistook the other residents as employees. One day my mom and I were sitting with Dad in the main visiting room. We were off to the side in chairs near the large fish tank. About seven other patients, all women, were seated around the long tables, in the various forms of regress that are the hallmarks of dementia. Dad motioned at the others, shaking his head with disgust, and informed us that he wasn’t sure “what was up” with these ladies.
“What do you mean Dad,” I inquired.
“They come here every morning at 6 am and just sit around all day doing nothing. I’m surprised they haven’t been fired yet. I’d fire them if they were my employees,” he informed us.
My mother and I looked at each other, startled and then quickly looked away, attempting to conceal our laughter.
The dementia didn’t prevent him from wanting to leave. He would ask us to bring the car around, so that we could go home. We’d have to tell him that he needed more therapy and couldn’t leave just yet. Those were the hardest moments, knowing he wasn’t ever going home. It was incomprehensible to me that he would never sit in his brown leather chair, or plant the tomatoes and onions by the garage, or make his daily rounds at the local grocery stores, mom’s list in hand.
The dementia didn’t steal his appetite. He continued to eat the food that came to him on a tray three times a day. They weren’t like the meals mom cooked and towards the end it had to be pureed. We would bring him home cooked dishes and baked goods, which he ate with enthusiasm. I’d also bring McDonald’s french fries and chocolate milkshakes and other take out items that he used to love. It was incredibly satisfying to watch him enjoy his old favorites.
The dementia didn’t steal his sense of humor. I remember an incident, involving one of the other patients, that showed Dad could still appreciate a moment of levity. Dick was one of my favorite people in the unit. He was good-natured and smiling all the time. One day he stood up from his chair and gave a “reach for the sky” kind of stretch. As he stretched he began to pass gas loud enough for everyone to hear. It was a long, slow puttering sound that lasted about five full seconds, having no meaning for him or the other residents sitting nearby. Once again, my mom and I almost lost it, but we managed to control ourselves. At least until my Dad looked at us with a very obvious WTF expression and proceeded to roll his eyes and shake his head.
There were a few funny moments during the mostly somber months Dad spent in the nursing home and we’ll always remember them. Dad’s clarity at those times allowed us to see what remained of the father I had always known and loved. They were a true gift.
However, over time the dementia did steal every part of my Dad, including his life. Fortunately, the placement in the nursing home only lasted nine months. I had no idea the extent of my own depression and pain until the day he passed away.
I was with him at the end. The moment the hospice nurse announced that he was gone, I felt my spirit soar right along with his. With a smile and tears on my face I kissed his cheek, leaned close, and whispered:
“Hey, Dad, guess what? The therapy is finished. You’re finally going home.”