The Alzheimer’s Abyss

I want to scream at Alzheimer’s to “LET MY DADDY GO!” When I look into his eyes now, there is nothing there. My grief process has begun. In the early stages, I unscientifically measured the progression of his condition by the number of good days versus the bad days he experienced. There are no more good days. It is agonizingly clear that the memories that anchor me to the working class upbringing that he provided for my mother, sister, and me are no longer shared with him. Two years ago I brought him to my home for a visit. He looked wistfully at childhood pictures of my sister and me and proudly stated, “I took good care of those kids.” “You sure did, Daddy,” I agreed. “Oh, you were there?” he asked. Back then, I laughed a lot to keep from crying. Now, humor gives way to sadness for him. Dementia’s grip is firm and unrelenting—it seems to quicken its pace day by day. Its final campaign might take ten years, or one week, or one hour, but it is certain. He has descended into an abyss from which he will not emerge.

I fear that to him, I am quickly losing my identity. He stares at me sometimes as if he wonders who I am. Already, I have no relationship to the newborn he lovingly cared for when my mother was too sick after we both nearly died during delivery. He does not recognize that I am the little girl he over-indulged. As a young adult I shared his militancy, which became the touchstone of our relationship. But all of that is now lost to him, and when I stand before him I am only a part of his “right now.” I am becoming Anybody. Still, he holds the presence of my sister and me dear. “You talked to Cyn?” he asks me repeatedly. “You talked to Barbara?” he asks her. Those are merely our names, though. He is no match for oblivion.

This hideous ailment has violated our relationship. His love for me has always been deep and abiding. I have never questioned it, although it has never, ever been spoken. It transcends the words that men of his generation often find too difficult to utter. Now, he feels, but he has lost the meaning for the words that would articulate those feelings. When I leave his presence I always say, “See ya later, Daddy. I love you.” I thought he may not know what I meant, but his eyes water. He feels.

I remember when another relative was dying of a smoking-related cancer nearly thirty years ago. I quit that filthy habit as I watched his demise because I feared contracting a similar illness. It was one of those positive outworkings of fear that motivates one to change for the better. A few months ago in a moment of self-pity, I told God that I would rather die where I was sitting than live one day with Alzheimer’s. I know that it was fear that was speaking, but I don’t know how to outrun this disease. There is nothing definitive to quit or do proactively. I simply trust God to keep me. My maternal grandmother lived to be ninety-eight years old. At the age of eighty-four, the age my father is now, she spoke boldly: “As long as God keeps me on this Earth, He’s going to keep me in my right mind.” He did. Every morning I wake up and praise God and make the same bold declaration. But I must confess, it is more of a plea.

To that, I add my prayer for research that leads to more effective prevention, treatment, and ultimately, a cure. Please add yours.

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6 Responses to “The Alzheimer’s Abyss”

  1. Thank you so much, Mary, for your encouraging words. God is still God, and His promises and His word stand forever. Thank you for sharing your experiences, your strength, and your faith.

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  2. God in His infinite wisdom does all things well. We may not know why He allows things to happen, but we do know that He is love. Out of this heart-wrenching experience will come much wisdom and all of your days, you will be a blessing to others.

    I watched my mother “disappear” when cancer cells overtook her body and brain. She did not know who I was and she was living in a past that I had not known existed. I endured, tears often my only accompaniment as I cared for her in those last two weeks of life. Finally, I implored God, “take Your child home because no one deserved to suffer that way.” He heard my plea and within an hour she was gone. The experience has taught me a great deal. I understand the hurt, anger, and frustration that people experience–both the victim and their loved ones. The thing I learned most is–I am not God, nor do I know why He allows some things to happen to me. I have learned to trust His judgment whether I understand it or not. I thank God daily for my own “sound mind” and know that it is only because of who He is, that I am still here.

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  3. I went through s similar situation with my grandmother and that hurt is so deep. You are in my prayers. Trust in God always, he can do anything but fail. Hugs and Kisses

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  4. Your post brought tears to my eyes. My mother also has dementia. Your feelings are my feelings. Your words could have been mine. My mother is not as far along as your father but I fear she is not far behind. I am also scared of the same fate. I pray daily, please God, spare me. It is awful and I hate it, but it is now a part of my life I cannot ignore. I too pray for effective prevention, treatment and a cure.

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    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. You and your mother are in my prayers. I have been told, as you probably have, that this experience is actually worse for the loved ones than the patient. I have to hope that my Dad is not as sad about this as I am. Thank you again, and God be with you.

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