At the assisted living facility where Dad lives, just down the hall from his room there is a door marked “resident storage” Ironically, that sign should be placed on the marquee sign outside, on 16th Street. Many days it feels like he’s stuck in a queue at the train station while the Lord works on the weightier matters here on the planet. He’s patiently waiting his turn to leave this complicated, congested, orb for the sweet life.
My Dad is an 89 year old nice guy. He was a family doctor for 40 years and now, the tables have turned on him.
Like many of us, his memory is gone.
Actually, if you’re reading this, your brain is light years ahead of Dad’s train wreck. 10yrs ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He decided to move into an assisted living center called The Terraces, in Phoenix.
In addition to his huge family medical practice, Dad was actually the attending physician at The Terraces assisted living community for over 30 years. That relationship has now come full circle and he is on the recieving end, being cared for with loving respect.
As his disease has progressed, Dad has moved from an independent living apartment to assisted living. A few weeks ago, as he was starting to wander, forgetting to come to meals and his balance had noticeably worsened, it was suggested that he move into the memory care unit. That smaller section is a beautiful space with much more supervision, personal attention and locked doors for his safety. It’s the last station.
It was not a tough decision for us to make, but it has been a rough transition for Dad. At first, the increased attention provided a noticeable boost. He even went on a field trip to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. I was blown away. My brother Cameron can barely get him out the door for Mexican food most Saturdays. It used to be the highlight of the week for Dad, but suddenly the thrill is gone.
Unfortunately, now a few weeks later, the novelty and extra attention are lost on him. He has slid into a kind of no man’s land between reality and a world made of scrambled thoughts and memories that are fragmented, at best.
Like a gourmet meal served in a blender, his data just isn’t accessible.
His hard drive is crashing.
Occasionally, he speaks with clarity about (very) frequently recurring themes. When his mind slips into neutral, He stutters and mumbles as he struggles to put his thoughts into words that make little sense to anyone including himself. Each visit is difficult with long silences as there is no longer much, if any, response. Conversation is a monologue and the friends and loved ones have mostly stopped coming by.
He has gotten quickly worse as his balance has faltered. He has fallen several times in the last few weeks. It seems like just a matter of time before he injures himself badly.
I am grateful for my Dad and his life. He was a gentle and thoughtful soul and I always respected his acceptance of others. He treated his patients with compassion. He was a very hard worker and good provider. In his “spare time” , he volunteered gladly as Scout Master, Doctor for Grand Canyon College, church youth sponsor, coach and other super-human endeavors. He had a good business sense and was a willing, seemingly tireless volunteer in the community. He wrote lots of checks to various charities and individuals in need.
Of course, there were weeds in his garden. Although he was my hero when I was a kid, I’ve since heard that he was not Superman… If he was, he certainly had his Kryptonite (don’t we all?) I never asked him, but now I long to hear about the demons that he carried with him. I’d like to compare notes, but that ship sailed a long time ago. I’m left to wonder just what drove him to pay it forward with a deep commitment to others. I want to hear what he heard when he asked himself who he really was.
It’s very weird to be speaking about my dad in the past tense. He’s not gone, but generally unreachable. Some days, it feels like he’s just sitting in a warehouse, in jail, waiting for his body to catch up with his brain so he can escape.
Ever the planner, Dad told my brother many years ago before he moved to assisted living that he had put together a cache of drugs and a syringe so that when he reached this point in his disease, he would not burden his family with the financial or mental stress of watching him deconstruct. Ironically, he forgot where he put it…
Have a peaceful day, Dad.