Monday, October 7, 2013

Lunch with my father.

My younger son and I went up to Kentucky to take my father out to lunch for his birthday yesterday. In the midst of a story, he lost the name he was looking for and paused for a long moment, trying to remember. Then he shook his head, laughed and said, "I have dementia, if you haven't noticed."

He is 77 now and seems so small and frail. We walked veeeeery slowly in, with him holding me with one hand and a cane with the other.  A far cry from his hiking, marathon-running, soccer-coaching days when we were growing up. He was always a man of contradictions and being his child was not easy.  He was bright and funny and affectionate, but also abusive and demanding.  The Alzheimer's seems to have drained every last bit of rage right out of him.  I feel like I'm now seeing the personality that would have developed if he'd not had a brutal childhood himself.  It's as if that terrible disease has uncovered his true nature.  He told me he has a nanny at home now, and said he liked her.  He also talked about running into a man from the day program he used to attend and their Annapolis-West Point rivalry.  And he was pleased to hear about my son's plans to get his degree in mechanical engineering, having gotten his own at MIT.

I can tell a noticeable decline in his memory since the last time I saw him, though. Some of the stories we'd talked about on my last visit, he could no longer remember.  And when I told him about going to see our old home in Massachusetts he was confused about that and a little surprised to hear we'd spent a summer on Cape Cod.  When we talked about my siblings, he said, "When you have six or seven kids, it's hard to keep up." He struggled to recall the relationship with his nieces and nephews, saying that he knew they weren't stepchildren but wasn't sure who they were.   And at one point he asked after my mother.  I told him that she was doing well and that she hadn't had any problems with her breast cancer in years. He said he hadn't known she'd had breast cancer, or about her mastectomy, radiation and chemo. He also hadn't known about my cervical cancer although that didn't surprise me since it was recent and I never really talked about it with him.  But he was looking concerned so I said I was fine and that, after all, he'd had cancer himself twice. He was shocked. "I did?!" I said, "Well, yeah, you had prostate cancer." Still looking astounded he said, "Who told you that?!!" I said, "You did!" And I reminded him about having the radiation seeds implanted.  Nope.  Didn't remember that at all. I foolishly persisted, "Do you remember having a melanoma?" And he was shocked again. "I did?!  Who told you that?!!" And again I said, "You did! And you showed me the scar on your back!" Clearly distressed now, he said, "I don't think we should go any further with this conversation." Oh, my. I put my hand on his and said, "Dad, the important thing is you're fine now - no more cancer, everything's okay." That seemed to reassure him and we moved on to safer topics. What a strange experience that must be to lose so much of your memory and yet retain a sense of who you are.

When we first sat down, after determining that my father wanted red wine, I had this conversation with the waitress:
Me: "What do you have as a house red?"
Her: "We have a Somethingorother Rosa."
Me: "Is that a rosé?"
Her: "Yes, I was just pronouncing it wrong."
Me: "Then no, a red wine."
Her: "Well, it's sort of red."
Me: "Not really."
Her: "You mean like a moscato?"
Me: "No, just a dry red wine."
Her: "Did you want a sweet wine?"
Me: "No! Just a regular red wine. A cab, a merlot, a red zin - something like that."
Her: "We have a chardonnay."
Me: (laughing now): "No, a RED wine."
Her: "We have a red chardonnay." 
Me: "You what?! (finally grabbing the menu) Okay, we'll just take a couple of glasses of the pinot noir." 

As she left with our order, my father turned to me with a smile and said, "But are you sure it's a red pinot noir and not a white pinot noir?" 

That's the Dad I remember.

40 comments:

  1. First of all, OMG on the wait staff. That is just embarrassing.

    I'm sorry to hear about your dad. We have been going through something similar with my father over the past year. He forgot which exit to get off the highway when he and my mom came for Thanksgiving. Though we moved, it's still the same exit....since 1988. Other times, he seems fine. It's heart breaking.

    I'm glad you and your youngest were able to visit for his birthday.

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    1. My father was diagnosed a few years ago, and its sad to watch the slow descent.

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  2. It must be difficult for you and your Dad with his dementia, but having lost my Dad two years ago today I would give anything to have him back even with dementia. I can't believe a waitress wouldn't know what red wine is! I think she's in the wrong job. LOL

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  3. The long goodbye and lovely you can see the man within who might have been.

    Laughed so hard at the wine episode. They walk among us. :)

    XO
    WWW

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    1. I'm glad I have the opportunity to see that man.

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  4. What a beautifully written post. So bitter sweet.

    My grandfather (my mothers father) had Alzheimer's, as well as the mother of a good friend of mine in Florida.

    "What a strange experience that must be to lose so much of your memory and yet retain a sense of who you are."

    Yes, I thought the same things myself. My grandfather would go in and out of remembering things. Some days his memory was sharp; other days not so much.

    Okay, and about the waitress who didn't know white wine from red. OMG...is she kidding?!?! Love the way wrote that scenario, and your father's last line!

    Thanks for sharing this, girl!

    X

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    1. I wonder what it will be like, too, when he is no longer aware that he has Alzheimer's?

      And thanks!

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  5. Get the feeling she doesn't drink? lol.

    I met a woman with Alzheimer's on my trip. She didn't remember falling from a 15 foot cliff and breaking her back. Same reaction as your father. "I did?"

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    1. Or only drinks sweet drinks, maybe.

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    2. You mean the kind that comes with a little parasol? :)

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  6. It shows character that you can be so kind to him when he's only now becoming the father you would have wanted. Which, I guess, shows he must have done something right!
    That server needs a job at a burger joint where she won't have her brain addled by wine lists! Then maybe that restaurant can hire someone with a clue....

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    1. I credit it more to therapy than my upbringing.

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  7. BTW, acting the maggot = being silly, fooling around.

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  8. That's so sad. Especially that you have to remind him of major events in his life that he's totally forgotten.

    How the hell did that waitress get hired, I wonder?

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    1. I don't think places like that restaurant care much about catering to people who know wine.

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  9. i had a waiter once who said they could only cool steak well done, not medium rare...yeah, no shock...ha.

    hard on your dad...seeing my own mom decline a bit has def sobered me...hard to switch spots you know....hope he had a great bday though

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    1. Ha! That's funny. (The steak thing, not about your mom, of course.)

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  10. I like that you are still able to enjoy time with your dad. There is something very sweet about that picture of he and your son with their genuine smiles...and their family resemblance.

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    1. Thanks, I loved that photo. My son definitely takes after my father's side of the family.

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  11. Your Dad sounds like an interesting and complicated man...I'm sorry for his situation. He is fortunate to have raised such a caring daughter and you are fortunate to have some time with the man you always wanted when you were young. I hope you all enjoyed his birthday.

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    1. Yes indeed. This last bit of time has been good for me.

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  12. Can you imagine a red chardonny? It was like oine time we went to a bar and I asked if they had a "full bar", i.e., everything, not just wine/beer. She turned and looked at the bar and said "no, there's still some seats to sit on". It was so hard not to laugh out loud (but years later it is still a joke here in the household).

    I feel for you and your dad. I do hope that he always remembers you; I have another fellow blogger whose dad has dementia and he doesn't remember her. She talks about the memories that he has and he has trouble knowing why she would have those memories herself, but its because she lived them with him, i.e., family trips, those types of things. She is just so sad he doesn't remember him. So I do hope your dad always remembers his children/grands.

    It is a sad disease. Hubby's mom had dementia and it was sad her forgetting things. My mom's memory was sharp as a tack until shortly before she passed when she was on morphine.

    I'm glad you had the the chance to see him and celebrate his birthday. Just a thought, if there is something you think of that you might want to ask him or know about him or something else, ask sooner than later. I know there are things I wish now I had asked my mom, but its too late.

    betty

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    1. I googled it, and there is a wine maker who actually makes a red chardonnay. I don't know if it's as bad as all those white zinfandels out there.

      I feel sure he will NOT always remember me. Alzheimer's never allows that. And it's too late to ask him anything. He remembers less about my early life than I do.

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  13. A beautiful post. I'm never sure which is better for the sufferer: to be trapped in a failing body with a sharp mind or to be gradually losing touch mentally while able to get around. Depends on the circumstances of course.

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    1. Thank you. I don't know the answer to that one either.

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  14. he seems to be someone you can still talk and have a good time with, which is great. one of my greatest fears is alzheimers. my heart goes out to every patient, their family and caregivers.

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  15. Just based on the experience of my father-in-law this disease seems harder on the person at beginning and then much harder on the family as it progress. It is as if the person is slowly fading away.

    From other posts I understand your relationship was complicated with him. I don't know if you will see this like me (of course I only know a tiny bit of your situation and don't have any emotional connection) - but if the past events were troubling and difficult, your dad's disease removed those events from him so maybe you can catch moments together without the past baggage hanging around.
    all the best for both of you.

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    1. I wish that were the case, but that's not my situation at all. Of course the past is always there hovering. I haven't lost my memory, after all.

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  16. my mother confuses the past and present. sometimes she is positive her mother is alive. i've found that facts don't help her. instead, i step into her world as much as i can and go from there. she's not confused like that all the time but when she's convinced her sister's waiting for her and she has to leave right NOW, i pick up the phone and call her sister: "Oh, tomorrow morning would be better? Okay, that's fine too, I'll let my mother know."

    i'm glad the goodness in your father is prominent. that's its own blessing. i like what bill said: the chance to do it differently, for both of you, might be a blessing.

    love
    kj

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    1. I just don't see it that way. It's a good thing that I get the chance to see that, but there is no redeeming my childhood. All the sweet lunches in the world can't do that.

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  17. I appreciate you sharing this, as it's helpful for me to remember how Not Alone we all are when it comes to trying to figure out aging and the inevitable diminishments. I feel like I still have an empathy to develop when it comes to getting inside the feelings and minds of those over 75. Every little story helps.

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    1. For my own sake, really, I've opted for patience.

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  18. Nice looking men in your life. How time marches relentlessly on....

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  19. Your post took me back to my care-giving days. My late wife suffered from dementia and I had to protect her from embarrassing herself with names and occasions. For all that, there were moments of lucidity too and they are the ones I still relish.

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  20. it seems even as alzheimer's steals his memory it gives a gentler version of your dad. strange but i am glad you are able to enjoy some pleasant time together.

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