When I walked into the hospital ward this afternoon to visit my 85-year-old dad, he looked astonished. ‘How did you know where to find me?’, he asked, before frowning and adding a little forlornly – ‘I’m just baffled, I don’t know where I am…’
Dad has been in hospital for almost four weeks now, and sadly does not seem to be getting any better. If anything, he seems to be deteriorating visibly. His level of confusion gusts and lulls with the wind but his mobility is consistently a lot worse and to cap it all he’s now not eating and drinking properly. This is in spite the best endeavours of all the wonderful staff at the hospital who try so hard to coax him and cajole him to eat and drink and stand up and walk. But dad is having none of it, so today he was put on a saline drip to bring his fluid levels up.
Dad has vascular dementia, the result of several past strokes, and was admitted to hospital at the end of October after a bad fall at home resulting in a bash on the head, which has now healed beautifully. With the help of home carers coming in four times a day and additional weekly respite, my 79-year-old mum has been caring for dad at home over the last five years but it is clear to all of us (except dad) that this arrangement simply cannot continue any longer. Dad needs proper 24-hour nursing care now, and so we are working behind the scenes with dad’s Social Work team to find an appropriate Care Home for him.
And in the meantime dad has better days and worse days, sometimes knowing where he is and others not, sometimes chatty (though confused) and sometimes all too quiet and uncommunicative. When I visited dad this afternoon my mum had already been in earlier in the day, so I knew dad had been up sitting in his chair when she first arrived but was sound asleep safely tucked up in bed when she left. So I asked him – Have you had a wee sleep today? And he answered quite animatedly ‘No I haven’t had the time, I’ve been too busy trying to get my brain to work!’. Poor dad…
And so I continue to visit him for my allotted hour as often as I can, and just be with him. Sometimes he looks sad, or fed-up, or puzzled, or tired, but I just let him be in whatever frame of mind he is in, and sit with it. I sit with him as he sleeps, or talks about things that confuse him, or most recently as he just looks at me, holding his gaze for ages. I too keep eye contact and see him looking deep into my eyes for answers to unasked questions he can’t even begin to fathom, and I know I can’t help him find what he’s looking for.
But I can be there with him and for him and hold his hand and hopefully let my being there bring him some little comfort to his lost word, however momentary. Because I am still his daughter, his first-born, and he is still my lovely dad. Thankfully for now he still knows me and I will always know him. Within me I carry his genes and have inherited his high cheek bones and blue eyes, and amongst other traits his quiet nature, his love of the outdoors, his brick-wall stubbornness and dry sense of humour.
So I sit with him and I treasure every moment because I know I am so lucky still to have him here. He is still very much part of the fabric of my life, however unravelled and frayed and worn his memory threads may be these days. Right now I feel as protective of my dad as I do of my children, as if in his vulnerability I love him even more than I did before. Dementia brings such an urgency to love, a need to make the most of what you have while you have it because you never know when, in the blink of a vacant eye, it will suddenly be gone.
I do realise that one day dad will no longer know me, no longer know any of his family, but until that day comes I’m holding on with all my heart to letting him know quietly and constantly how much he means to us. It’s not much but in the circumstances it’s all I can do, and so I try to do it with as much patience and understanding and comfort and love as I can… ❤