A couple of months ago I was sitting across the kitchen table from my dad on his last night in the home he has known for almost 50 years. Dad was going to be placed the following day in a memory care home for adults with Alzheimer’s. This was not a sudden decision but rather the agony of many months of discussion that culminated when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and started her chemo treatments.
I was working on getting some photos developed at Walmart for the room he would have. As I finished up I heard my mom say something to Dad about Joan.
I looked up from my laptop and asked Dad “Who is Joan?”
He looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “Don’t you know who you are?”
Oh, the heartache of Alzheimer’s! As dad posed the question to me, I melted inside, wondering if we were doing the right thing. Was Dad really sick? He seems so normal at times.
I looked at Mom with her scarf on, hiding her now bald head due to the affects of chemo. Yes, we had to move Dad, so Mom could heal. I shut my laptop and went to Walmart to get the photos, some frames and other supplies dad would need.
| My dad’s family. Front Row: Verna, Michael and Mary, Stella.
Back Row: Melvin, Clem, Helen, Leo, Joe
When I returned Mom and I moved Dad into the living room to pray a rosary. The rosary has been a great source of strength for my parents and for Steve and I. I’m not sure how well dad can reflect on the mysteries of Jesus’ life, but I do know it is one activity his brain continues to know how to do.
|One activity my dad still remembers very well is
praying his rosary. This was a nightly routine and now
we pray it with him when we visit. Even though Dad
doesn’t always hold a rosary, his hands act like one is there.
I then encouraged mom to get ready for bed so we could hopefully transition my now drowsy dad into bed as well. Bedtime has been the most challenging time of the day for my mom in getting my dad to go to bed. That night I was feeling very grateful because Dad was in his bed by eleven.
My bedroom was just down the hall and adjoined the bedroom he was in. About 2 a.m. I heard the sound of a power tool. I got up and walked down the hall to peek into his bedroom. Dad was kneeling on the floor next to his bed with a power tool in one hand and his other hand just laying nearby like he was trying to figure out what to do next. I felt so sad that this man who had modeled hard work by repairing cars, tractors, trucks and drywall tools could no longer figure how what he was suppose to do with the tool.
I turned and went back to my room. I didn’t know what else Dad had hidden under his bed, so I just laid down in my bed just listening to him. At some point I dozed off and was awakened by noise coming from the kitchen. I got up and went to the kitchen to find Dad in a kitchen chair with a cookie jar lid on the floor. I spoke to Dad about going back to bed and decided to try pulling him to his room while he sat on the rolling chair. I did get dad back to his room and back in his bed. It was about 4 a.m.
The morning came quickly with much to do to make sure the transition would go as smoothly as possible. My dad could walk with two canes but spent most of his time sitting in his wheel chair. When he was in bed it took a lot of time and patience to get him going and he was known for resisting efforts to get him up and moving. We had extra help that morning to take care of Mom and keep Dad occupied outside, so I could transfer his bed and a desk to his new home without him seeing what was going on.
|My mom and dad have a deck on the south side of their house. During the fall
of 2010 my siblings and I worked together with dad to build this deck. It was
during those work sessions that we first noticed dad was having memory issues.
My uncle helped me get Dad’s bed and desk unloaded and put together. We put on the newly washed bedding, put the pictures around the room, and I put his Bible, the Diary of St. Faustina and some of his prayer cards on his desk with a crucifix nearby.
The home Dad would be living in was only about five minutes from where he and Mom raised six children. We felt the proximity would be very helpful to Mom and the daily visits she would make. Our original intent was to hope a place would be available in the Veterans Home. Dad was on a waiting list that could take up to a year for a spot to be available for him.
Back at home we only had to get dad in my car and load up his wheel chair. His clothes and personal items were all waiting for him at his new home. My aunt and uncle were going to meet us there to help get dad inside. He was not one to be tricked.
We stopped at the Dairy Queen, my dad’s favorite place to stop, and proceeded with ice cream to the new home. Dad was feeling drowsy and wasn’t able to eat all of his ice cream before we arrived. My uncle greeted us at the car as I unloaded the wheel chair. My aunt was inside and opened the door for us and greeted dad with a hearty hello. Dad responded with his own hearty reply and we went inside.
|Family is so very important during times of trial. Here is my dad, mom,
Aunt Stella, Aunt Juanita and Uncle Paul. Juanita and Paul have been
great friends as well as family support for me, my parents and my family.
My heart was feeling relief and a heavy sadness at the same time. Dad would never go home again. This was his new home. This was where he would spend the rest of his days. I looked at mom with her scarf wrapped around her head and remembered the many questions dad had recently asked me like “Where is my wife?” and “Where is everybody?” He had been saying each night “I want to go home.” I knew this was not the home he was looking for and I hoped the photos of his parents and the one of his siblings would bring him some comfort.
|My siblings helped me put together a book for dad for his
80th birthday that included photos from his youth to the
present day. He is looking at it with his sister, Stella.
We were told not to spend much time with dad so the staff could start interacting with him and start to settle him in. As my mom gave him a kiss I again felt the stab of sadness that one feels during many life moments–dropping a child off at camp, leaving a child at college, giving a hug to a child that is going overseas and now saying good-bye to the life dad had with my mom.
|Mom comforts my dad with a warm blanket.|
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. During my visits to see dad I met other Alzheimer patients that were funny, angry, silent or at moments very sane. Dad seems to maintain some of his sense of humor with the help of medication to keep him calm. “Don’t you know who you are?” has come back to me many times since that last night of his at home and I can only hope that even though he may not know who he is I will never forget that he is my dad and he deserves all my love and the best possible care until he goes to his final home.
|Dad has always loved playing with the little kids and his
face lit up when he saw the two great-granddaughters. Jeff
also had a chance to visit his grandpa while home from Peru.