Two years ago my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The very evening she was diagnosed I happened to watch a special on the very disease that had begun to strip away not only her memory, but her personality, her self. I watched…and felt like I had been punched in the heart. Over the last two years the effects of that disease have shown itself in many ways…most notably in my father.
Since the day she was diagnosed my father and I have exchanged tons of email and within the confines of those emails I have watched my father wither inside. When we think of Alzheimer’s, we usually assume it’s going to strike a senior citizen who will slowly just forget the very act of being alive. Their brain will eventually forget to instruct their heart how to beat and they will perish, with memory in their minds. What most neglect to consider is the hardship those victims loved ones must go through.
My father aches, hurts, longs to have the woman he married some forty-four years ago back in his life. Instead, he is now in the early stages of living with and loving a stranger. And when I read the email he sends me, my heart breaks for him.
I want to run away.
He’ll say. Or —
Most of the time she doesn’t make any sense, but I try to deal with it.
The hardest part for me (other than seeing my father hurt) is wanting so badly to fix the problem. That’s what men do, right? We fix problems. It’s that thing that drives women crazy. But in this situation, the problem I want to fix stems from the fact that my father can not fix my mother’s problem. She’s lost. He’s lost. All my father wants is for everything to return to normal — to once again live with the woman he fell in love with, married, and had a family with. He wants to look into her eyes and not feel like he’s staring into a void.
I’ve seen that void, that glossed over look that tells me the mother that screamed and cried when doctors rolled me (as a seven year old boy) into an operating room to repair my ruined hip is not there any more. It’s as if someone else slowly eased into her skin and tried very hard to take over her memories, her life.
And as strange as this sounds, I don’t hurt so much for my mother as I do for my father. My mother doesn’t really know what’s going on. She thinks everything is as it should be — only with a bit of a confused edge that wasn’t there before. My father, however…
- Sees the loss.
- Lives the out of place accusations.
- Has become more a babysitter than a husband.
- No longer lives with the woman he married.
In all the years of my life I have never experienced the sorrow my father is now going through. If I look at my wife and think of her slowly withering from the inside out, I want to curl up in a corner and hide from the world. Yet my father is doing everything in his power to keep it all together and care for the woman he shares so many memories with…memories she may no longer share. Could I do the same? I hope like hell I could.
Father’s can be incredible forces in our lives — sometimes in ways we can not fathom.
Once upon a time I flirted with the idea of adding to my ever-growing novels I have written an auto-biography about my family. But the truth of the matter is, no words I could possibly write can do justice to what my father has suffered over the years. And, unlike my father, I have not had to experience the methodically slow, downward spiral into some unknown abyss my mother is suffering. The words that should be written should, ultimately, come from my father.
I would ask you one simple thing: If you know someone who is dealing with a loved one inflicted with this maddening disease, lend them an ear, a shoulder, a helping hand…anything to let them know you care and that their hardship does not go unseen or unappreciated.
There is no way I can help my dad right now, other than to listen. I can not fix his problem. I can not remind him it is only going to get worse. I can just listen and make sure he knows I am always there for him.