Falling Out of Focus – Alzheimer’s disease in a family
|“The Fifth Second Chance” by George Anastaplo|
It is June of 2015.
Earlier this month I spent a few days with my father while my mother attended a religious retreat with my sister. They had a good time.
My father has Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s early in the process the doctor’s say. That is a conclusion my family clings to like a buoy in the sea. The three days I got to spend with him, watching after his needs, and more so watching after the household needs that he cannot, revealed quite a bit about his status. It also revealed a lot about the nature of Alzheimer’s, dementia, dignity, and love.
First off I should say, dad has been worked up by doctors and is on medication to slow the decline and sharpen what faculties he has. Ironically, he has a hard time remembering to take them. His physical health is good, or as good as it has been for the decade before being diagnosed. He survived a heart attack over 20 years ago and uses a breathing machine when he sleeps for his sleep apnea.
My dad is a big fella. He is six foot four inches and every bit of at least 250 pounds. I outgrew him by about 5% (in both directions) but he has always seemed much tougher, stronger, healthier, and ornerier than me. He has a big loving heart but like men of his generation it is protected behind machismo. This disease has stolen that grandeur from him. It has diminished him.
What I struggle with is that the father I have known would not wish to be in this state. When he cannot remember to urinate and it happens without his permission or knowledge, or when he stares into nothingness while making eye contact with you… this is not how he would wish to live. So I pose questions to myself:
- Is this lifestyle one he would wish to live?
- Does he even raise that question to himself or does he just meander from one moment to another not anchoring to the present?
- If that is the case, does he have the right to judge his own condition?
- Is he a ward of those who care for him now (that being my mom)?
Father’s day is the day after tomorrow. An event created to sell merchandise. Still, it means something to him – or it did once. It does still mean something to my mother who, i believe, can attach presence to my dad based largely on how much honor is shown him by his children. Kind of like how gods only have power when humans worship them – take away the worship and the god fades.
This situation keeps bringing me back to the idea of life and what it is good for. A lot to think about. No easy answers. Questions however that need to be confronted. That is what I’ve learned – issues need to be confronted.
image from Flickr Creative Commons