My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. -Jim Valvano
Quietly slipping away, brain cells diminished by frontal-temporal dementia, my father exists a shell of a man. It has been a long time since I have written about my dad. It is difficult to express the sadness in my heart as I watch his decline. It’s not like I didn’t know what was coming. My years working in a nursing home have taught me a lot about dementia but did not really prepare me to face my own father’s decline.
He is totally incontinent now and his speech is gone. His eyes offer only an occasional hint of recognition that I am his “favorite daughter.” I am the oldest and only daughter and he always made me feel special. He still does …. fathers and daughters have a heart connection, after all.
I wonder what his life is like… what he thinks… if there is anything going on behind that blank stare? I remember the time in OT (occupational therapy) school when we did a lab where we had to take turns feeding each other and how powerless I felt. When my father was more communicative he would express his frustration verbally and with gestures. Now there is silence. Is that silence without an expressed emotion, I wonder? Or is the frustration there but trapped inside a body that is no longer able to express it?
I like to imagine that he is resigned to “what is” and I hope that the part of the brain that judges harshly and feels grief is finally quiet. I’d like to think that the love in his heart is still there even though he is unable to express it with hugs and kisses…. If he still experiences frustration , I know that would be its greatest source.
My dad, who became a father at the tender age of 16, worked hard to support his family. If there is a gift in this illness for him perhaps it is this time to rest and be taken care of. I hope that he continues to accept care from those of us who love him.
Tears are flowing as I write…. they come easily these days when I think of my dad. I have memories of good times and some not so good. I accept them all and am in gratitude that I was one of the lucky ones…. to have a father who loved me and treated me well. I love you, Dad.
There is a beautiful welcome for you in the home you are going to. ~ John O’Donohue, Entering Death (To Bless the Space Between Us)