Having been a caring witness to the long goodbye that is Alzheimer’s, that eventually ended the lives of my father and mother-in-law, I know well the ravages it wrought to their minds and bodies. Watching the devolution of a life is a painful process, but if one pays attention there is an opportunity to discover the essence of a loved one, as the carefully crafted layers of a life history begin to peel away. It is a time machine of sorts, one that can offer an opportunity to better view the unencumbered core around which their life was built.
Over the last five years of my father’s ten-year journey, his life as an electrical engineer vanished and soon he and I, no longer remembered as his son, but rather a friend he had come to know, shared his vivid experiences during WWII. This emotionally charged part of his life had deeply etched memories. I got to know him as he recounted the good and bad of those experiences, as well as his relationships with fellow soldiers/friends who were now back among the living.
As time passed, WWII slipped into oblivion, and my father revisited teenage years; years replete with the newly reconstructed reality of his core as an artist. He shared with me that he, his brother and father had been together just the day before. He confided in me that this resort hotel (an Alzheimer’s home to those not privileged to share his vision) was a favorite place that they liked to go to relax. He happily recounted what they had done, giving me insights into feelings he had that I would never had known had we not traveled together, raconteur and avid listener.
Unrelentingly, Alzheimer’s deconstructed his body as well, eventually stealing the ability to communicate, his control over bodily functions and his auto-immune system, all of which required a skilled nursing facility for the last 10 months of his life.
Although the journey was emotionally wrenching, I appreciate having had the opportunity to discover the essence and building blocks of the wonderful person that was my father.