We’re losing him now... piece by piece, ounce by ounce, inch by inch. Every time we visit he seems a little older, a little smaller, a little more lost. His 80 years worth of life experience and his memories have slipped away, decade by decade it seems. Up until a few months ago he could still remember short vignettes from his first 10 years, but now those too are clouded in time. What does he think about now that he can’t remember? How can he can sit for hours and hours staring at that television. Sometimes we get there and the TV is broadcasting in Croatian or Mandarin because somehow he’s managed to switch channels on a satellite remote that has all the buttons shaved off except for a couple. He only ever knew English and a few words of Norwegian maybe, yet there he sits quite content. He refers to the TV as 'good company'. So is Sheba, his cat, who is now hugely overweight from spending 2 years living in a 14x12 ft space and eating constantly. Sheba watches too much TV as well, the rest of the time she has her face scrunched against a bit of window screen pleading for her freedom.
He’s losing his ability to communicate with words; sometimes the conversation is just a few words about the clouds, the trees or maybe the road conditions. For the most part we ride around in silence listening to music. I try to initiate small talk but it feels like I’m talking to myself, something I’m not very good at. It's funny though, on the odd occasion we get a glimpse of ‘dad’ shining through. For a few minutes, an hour perhaps, he’s back, his humour in its rightful place. Suddenly he remembers someone’s name, the words to an old song, or the name of an airplane he worked on in 1948, and then he’s gone again.
He was always an avid reader; always had several dog leafed books lying open on his bedside table along with his police scanner radio and a large brown glass ashtray. Now he can’t read, yet his room is jammed with books and magazines from home, and others he keeps picking off the shelves he passes by in the nursing home. Most of these are written in French or Spanish. I know he can’t read anymore because he needs glasses, and they disappeared along with other things that were in his room. Often we find underwear or socks in his little fridge, peanuts or cashews in Sheba’s food dish, maybe half a sandwich in a drawer. Recently I found Iams cat food on his bedside table...I don’t want to even think about that. He likes to move stuff around in the room. He used to like to move furniture around when we were growing up. We couldn’t afford new furniture, but if he moved the existing stuff around, it brought a feeling of newness to the room.
|Dad in his early years|
He’s starting to give the staff trouble lately, being ornery (his word) or downright mean sometimes. He doesn’t want to eat, doesn’t want to take his meds, doesn’t want to come out of his room or be social. We call that person ‘stubborn Kenny’. We saw that personality when we were growing up, but not very often. He was always a soft spoken, shy man, except when he had a quantity of beers in him. Then he would become jovial and talkative; tell bawdy jokes, dance, and play marching music, old WWII war songs, or Al Hirt jazz on the stereo. Sometimes the evening would end with him locking himself in the bathroom and falling asleep sitting on the toilet, which we thought was hilarious, but also tough because we always only had one bathroom. Mom would beat on the door threatening him loudly in French.
One of the things we find most interesting is that he’s forgotten so very much, yet his manners are intact. He takes his hat off if we are going into a restaurant, or even a store. He holds doors open, he always says hello when passing someone, and he still has good table manners although I’ll catch him staring at a fork or spoon briefly wondering what it’s for. He never spills anything on himself, even ice cream, unlike myself, who still can’t eat anything without wearing some of it. He tries to have conversations at family gatherings, which is heart wrenching to watch. He was always the one at the head of the table, the turkey carver, the wine dispenser, the conversationalist. He was always meticulous about his appearance, but that is fading away now. He forgets to shave and brush his teeth and comb his hair. He likes to dress in layers, which apparently is something Alzheimer’s patients have in common. Sometimes he’ll be wearing 3 layers of clothing.
With all this though, it’s still better than a few years ago before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The early stages are all about denial and anger. He would often be angry, something he rarely was. It must have been very scary for him getting lost in a city he lived in for so long, forgetting what he had just done a couple hours before, forgetting how to do tasks or fix things. When we were moving our parents out of their home a few years ago I came across an old 3-ring binder in his office. In it were pages and pages of neatly typed diary entries he’d done on his computer. The file name on the top of each page was ‘Andrew tries to Remember’. Each page listed dates and hours and entries or activities that had occurred. If he went to the bank, or the store, got gas, updated his financial files or drove mom to an appointment or bingo, he wrote it down. It starts in 1994 and ends in 2002.
He remembers only a few of us now, myself, my sister and our husbands. He doesn’t remember our brother but that’s because he doesn’t live nearby. Sometimes he recognises his grandchildren, but mostly he doesn’t. Most painful of all, he doesn’t remember our mother. They were together for 58 years when we lost her in 2008. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t remember her because he’d be so broken hearted. He told a couple of the staff that he wants to die. He never says this to me. He’s probably in better health now than he was a few years ago, when his heart was always going into arrhythmia and we’d end up at the hospital several times a year where they’d administer a couple jewels with the paddles to get his heartbeat regulated. He’d have a smoke on the way home afterwards. He was always checking his own blood pressure with some cheap drug store monitor and sending himself into arrhythmia, checking his pulse, complaining about his eyes or his bad back spasms. Now he doesn’t remember any of his ailments. He does keep chipping his teeth though. Maybe it’s the Iams, but I’m hoping it’s the peppermints he’s addicted to.