the long good-bye

My father has dementia. It is part of his family history. In his mother’s family, six of the seven siblings have had some sort of dementia. My aunt’s and uncles call it the “Larsen Disease.”   Those that are still able to are participating in a longitudinal study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

My dad, Jerry Murray
my dad

My father has lost his ability to speak. It has been difficult to see the decline in this very talented musician (guitar player, singer, square dance caller)… yet he continues to sing.  He sings not with words. His songs have no words. He now sings from the heart using the language of love. To compensate for his loss of speech he freely offers kisses and hugs… and he doesn’t hold back.

I used to call my dad and talk to him on the phone. He understands speech pretty well and is able to make his needs known with non-verbal communication when I am with him and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to have a relationship with him over the long distance… so once a month I travel to MN to spend a few days with him.  I am happy to do it and will continue to do so until he no longer knows who I am.

My father never had a lot of time for me growing up. He preferred spending times with my brothers and his many square dance friends…. but I always knew that I was loved.  I was, after all, his favorite daughter. (It never mattered to me that I was his only daughter.)  There is a special bond between fathers and daughters. I see it in my husband and daughters.

My father has lots of time for me now. I am coming to know him… truly know him for the first time. When we are together (or apart) we share heart space. I feel loved.

He used to cry and would shake his head saying, “This is not good.” He would become angry when he couldn’t find words and really “pissed off” when he could no longer drive. He no longer resists what is happening to his mind though his wife shares that with each new loss, she senses a deep sadness that passes in a few days. I admire his ability to accept what is happening to his mind.

I read somewhere that the gift of dementia is the letting go of worries about the future and the regrets of the past. I see that in my dad. He is present to whatever or whomever is there… in the moment. He lets me know when he doesn’t like the TV channel or the music on his iPod. He greets family and friends with kisses and hugs, laughs at our corny humor, and reaches out to pat the back of a stranger passing by to say hello. He freely expresses his emotions.

Spending this time with my father is a gift…. and though I don’t like to think about it I know that it is part of the process of saying good-bye. I will continue to share our story here.

 

12 thoughts on “the long good-bye

  1. Mom, how beautiful you write about grandpa. So true and it is a different relationship with him but it’s easy to see some of the benefits 🙂

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  2. This tribute to your dad is so heartfelt. I and, I’m sure, most of your readers can relate to this evolving relationship with a loved one.

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  3. How tender and expressive you are,, Just like your Dad. This will make very good reading for others who might have the “Larsen disease.” Thank you with love, Margie

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  4. Peggy, I’ve been thinking about what you said about your dad spending more time with your brothers and his friends than he did with you. I know that he’s always been very proud of you. Proud of your intelligence and ability to cope with problems. Your mom and dad both said so many kind things about you as you were growing up. I think that sometimes the very capable children in families get left to their own devices more than children who are perceived to need more attention. I believe I gave Jennifer more attention growing up than I did Monica because I always thought that Monica could handle anything. As I believe you know, Jennifer is bipolar. Just something to think about…

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