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 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.