Hold your memories close to your heart
For dementia will rip them apart
Tattered shreds haunt your mind
Broken threads hard to find
Shattered images fade, then depart...
I realise I haven’t written about my dad lately… He’s still with us in body if not always in mind, but it gets harder to see the tiny little differences in him every time I visit him in the care home where he now lives permanently. It’s as if he is slowly withdrawing from the world, day by day.
My dad will be 87 next month, but has had vascular dementia since he was 80, so over the last seven years the dad I knew and loved so much has slowly been disintegrating mentally in front of our eyes, piece by piece, memory by memory, which is just heartbreaking to experience.
In the last decade dad has had five strokes, each one leaving him with even more reduced mobility than before, and since the last small stroke just before Christmas last year he no longer has much speech. He whispers a soft ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asked a direct question but not much else, so it’s difficult to know where he is in his mind any more, because he can’t tell us what he’s thinking or where he’s at, neither in time nor place.
In the past, sometimes dad would know I was his daughter, or at other times he would think I was his sister but as long as I knew where he was in his mind on that day, we could usually have a reasonable conversation regardless. And now I simply sit with him and hold his hand, talk a bit about life a bit, then go home and cry…
One of our neighbours, a sprightly 83 year old man who reminded me a lot of my dad as he used to be, died suddenly a couple of weeks ago. He had one massive stroke one day and was gone, just like that. It’s strange not seeing him around, but it’s made me think a lot about dad and his drastically reduced quality of life, and it hurts to remember that’s always how dad said he wanted to go – at home one minute, living a normal full life as usual, and then just gone…
Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks simply – How are you? And I realise I am grieving for someone who is still alive, but not really living any more. Grieving for the loss of connection, and the closeness we always had, and the beauty of wholly belonging in someone’s heart without question.
Because now the question is, does dad even know who I am any more? Does he recognise me as his daughter, or does he still think I’m his sister, or is the occasional look of recognition he gives me just a vague familiar feeling that this is someone that I should know?
I still love my dad so very much and always will, but it saddens me so much to see him this way. The physical lack of mobility after the strokes I could cope with, but the mental deterioration of vascular dementia has so cruelly taken my beloved dad away from me, from all of us, and that reality makes me fiercely determined to live life while I can.
So don’t waste any more time procrastinating if there are important things you want to do before you die, because you never know what cruel twist of fate is waiting round the corner for you…