This is how my father greets me (and everyone) every time I enter his home. And as he slips further into dementia, it feels even more sincere. When he first started saying it I, as is my bad habit, tried to come up with a smart-ass retort every time.
Now I just say, “I am too, Dad.”
Dementia is hard. Mostly for the family. Dad doesn’t know he has it and is happier than he has been in years, although he has days of melancholia when he acknowledges that he “won’t be here much longer.”
Dad’s dementia escalated last year when he had a stroke. That’s when he started talking in his sleep. He still does this nearly every night — sometimes just a little bit, and sometimes he talks for hours. He talks mostly about happy things — he’s planting a garden, and it’ll have peas, potatoes, onions, corn, green beans, carrots … and there’ll be enough for everyone in the neighborhood and we’ll have a picnic on the hill. Sometimes he’s selling something to someone for $2,400 and he takes down their credit card information and their phone number and repeats it back to them but he actually repeats his own phone number and then says, “Wait a minute, that’s my number. I need your number.” I don’t know where all the selling comes from — he has never worked in sales. Maybe he wanted to.
After a few weeks in the hospital I started writing down the things he was saying. I didn’t know my Dad well when I was growing up because he worked nights at the local auto factory. So it was insight for me. His dementia has made him much more vocal, and vocal about expressing his feelings, which he always kept to himself. [At the end of this post I’ve included a list of things Dad said while he was in the hospital, recovering from the stroke].
He has also become very grateful with dementia. He thanked everyone at the hospital who came into his room “for coming,” and thanked them for everything they did for him. They loved him. For the most part, with the exception of occasional outbursts, mostly directed at Mom, he has remained grateful and continues to thank us for a glass of water, for tucking him into his bed, for turning out the hall light, for lunch, for his fluffy blanket, for pretty much everything. Mom & I know that can change but we are grateful that it hasn’t, so far.
We celebrated his 87th birthday in the hospital last year, and all the family came to what we thought might be his last birthday. We were wrong. After almost losing him to a UTI that went septic in July, he’s back and working hard to get better. This year we celebrated his 88th birthday quietly at home, thanks to Covid.
Right after this photo, Dad pulled out the glitter tissue paper from the bag, wiped his nose on it, and threw it on the floor. Always an adventure!
The Veterans Association in Kansas City has been a life-saver. Dad has always been very proud of his service in the Air Force. He was stationed in Manila, so Mom & Dad spent the first two years of their marriage in the Phillippines, which was a great adventure for them. We might not have made it through this year without the VA. Mom & Dad didn’t know he was entitled to a small pension through the VA that has allowed them to hire a health care worker to spend 2 nights a week at their house (so now I only have to spend 5 nights there). He has a bath aide from the VA, and someone from VA Respite Care comes once a week to stay with Dad while I take Mom out. Of course, right now “out” means picking up a lunch and eating it at my house, then watching an episode of Ozark and taking a nap. But at least she’s out of her house. I worry more about her than about Dad — she’s 89 years old, weighs 89 pounds, has her own health issues, and is as stubborn as a Missouri mule. She handles the day shift, and I have the night shift.
But we’re so tired. Taking care of someone who can’t take care of themselves is such hard work. Every parent knows that. That’s the irony for me because I chose not to have children (!). I’m so happy to still have them, though, and the time since I moved back home (4 years ago) is time I will always treasure. Before Dad got too sick we were able to travel back East to visit their best friends — a couple they met when Dad was in the Air Force. A road trip with my 80’s-something parents — it was great. So, no regrets!
That’s Mom & Dad, on the right in each photo. The photo on the left was in the 1980’s, but they met in the 1950’s in the Air Force in the Phillippines. The photo on the right is our 2016 road trip.
We’re waiting patiently for the local VA home to open up admission again so Dad can move there. I think he’ll really enjoy the social life. When I mentioned it to him a few months ago he said, “Sounds great. A bunch of old goats sitting around telling stories.” And he meant that as a good thing.
Sorry for the ramble. I’ve just been thinking about 2020, and hoping for 2021. No resolutions. We’ll just see what happens.
And deal with it.
2020 Update: Covid (we didn’t get it, just feared it and isolated), dementia, caregiving, sleeplessness, my mom’s chronic illnesses, Dad’s near-death experience, and finally… two beautiful new babies from my nephews, to give us all hope.
WHAT DAD SAID
These are things he said while he was in the hospital, recovering from his stroke. Some of the things he said out loud to people in the room, or to me, but most of them were sleep-like ramblings. If an 88-year-old man with a stroke and dementia can have this much optimism…why can’t we all?
- What a day. How lucky can I be?
- I work hard for my people and it pays off.
- I’m too tired to take a nap.
- What a day.
- Maybe if I shut up I can sleep.
- What a world.
- God Bless America.
- They’re so good to me here.
- I have so many friends — I didn’t know.
- For a long time I didn’t know why I was working — now I do.
- I wish Jeff [his son] was here today. Then it would be perfect. [Jeff had just left]
- I’m an Arkansawyer [not true: he’s never lived in Arkansas].
- I’m so lucky.
- Mom: I love you.
Dad: Well, I’ll be darned.
- I have so many friends here [hospital workers]. I can’t run them all off.
- I have so many friends — I am the richest man alive.
- I hurt, but it’s good.
- Today will be a good day. I’m going to be a good sport.
- I hurt but I’m not ready to go yet. I want to spend more time with my family.
- I am working. I’m not giving up. I’m tough.
- I’m so proud of you.
- It takes a lot of strong to fight this off, but I can do it.
- The worse it tastes, the better it is for you.
- We’re going to win this one.
- I am so proud of my daughter. Bullheaded and kicking ass like her mama. I am never more proud.