Thursday, February 03, 2011
Those that know me well know that my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's while in his mid 60s. I can remember the little things before he was formally diagnosed that showed the signs that something was wrong - like the time in the kitchen when he held a book of photos to show me upside down, and had no concept of what was wrong or how to rectify it - and the panic it caused in me. We all hoped it was something else - depression, or something else that didn't mean what Alzheimer's meant, for him, for my Mum, for all of us.
In many ways Dad seemed to be the one that coped with it best. He had the most positive attitude towards it all, and was determined to live his life as fully as possible. And the funny thing is, in a strange way the disease did help him live life more fully - he became more open, more emotional, more affected by music, art, beauty, children, than he had ever been. And that in turn helped him connect with his own children in a way that hadn't been possible before. So, strangely, it turned out that there was something positive in the middle of all of this, if you looked hard enough.
During a trip my Mum and nieces and I took in 2008 to England/Greece, my Dad fell ill, and ended up in hospital. He got over the illness but he never came home, moving right from the hospital to a care home. It was hard, but it was the right thing - and the way it all happened made it easier than it would have been if the move had been straight from home to a care facility. He was there just over two years, and my Mum would go daily to feed him lunch; my brothers and I would go every weekend. We watched him slip further into himself over that period of time, the moments of connection he would show with us and the world around him get fewer and fewer. It was hard, but it also became strangely routine. Things slip and change so slowly, you are really too close to notice the decline.
The beginning of last week, Dad had a series of strokes. Two days later, in the early hours of the 26th, he passed away, thankfully fairly peacefully. The week since then has been a surreal whirlwind. We had a funeral service for family yesterday. I am blessed with a family that has pulled together during this and it felt right to keep that moment down to that small core group. I have been to funerals before, but I never before fully realized how important ritual is in this whole mourning process - Dad is gone, and it is all about what those left behind need to help them deal with this all - but seeing him in his coffin dressed in his finest, looking in a way better than he has in years (yes, I realize what a strange thing that is to say) gave him back some of the dignity that the disease took away, and that gave more comfort than I would have expected.
I know I haven't fully figured out what this loss means to me, and I know with a memorial service and scattering of ashes still to come, it isn't technically over yet. And I know new routines will form to take the place of the old ones. And I know there is comfort in routine.
And that, I guess, is all I have to say. For now at least.