Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm Walking for Alzheimers - in honor of Dad

I've written about my father and how painful it is losing him to Alzheimer's in previous posts here. I describe it to people has having my heart cut out with a butter knife. It's slow. It's painful.

But it's not without moments of beauty and love. My father has always been a dog person. We were rarely without a dog growing up, and although he could be very strict with us, my dad was a complete marshmallow when it came to dogs. Dogs know these things. By the time I got Benny in early 2008, Dad was already fading. But they established a very strong bond.

Fortunately, the Waveney Care Center ,where Dad lives now, is brilliant about allowing family members to bring in pets. Benny,despite having been turned down as an official therapy dog as a puppy because he couldn't maintain a sit/stay for long enough, is a regular visitor and has developed quite the fan club. What's even more amazing to me is that he's learned which residents are real dog people and makes a beeline for them as soon as we walk in the door.

But it's my father he's most excited to see. We have to go up in the elevator, and Benny knows exactly where to go:

As you can see from the pictures below, when he gets there, the love is mutual. Even if Dad is sleeping or agitated, Benny brings a smile to his face.

But Alzheimer's is a one way street, unfortunately, and Dad's condition has deteriorated since last year at this time. He is even more confused, and once when I went to visit him he'd forgotten how to pet Benny - I had to take Dad's hand and remind him how to stroke Benny's soft coat with his palm. It was heartbreaking.

And then there are what I call the tragicomic moments - the ones I am saving up for the adult novel I plan to write some day when I have some distance from all of this. Like when I went to visit Dad and I think he thought I was my mother (because I look like my mom) and told me he just wanted me to kiss him all day.

I was like, "Um, Dad, I'm your daughter. Folks tend to frown on that kind of thing."

Figuring I better get him to a more populated area, I walked him to the elevator. I'd just thrown on a sundress, and I guess it showed a little more cleavage than I usual. And we're in the elevator and I see that's where Dad is staring. And one part of my brain, the teenage part is like, "OMFG, my DAD IS STARING AT MY BOOBS!! I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!!!!" and another part of my brain, the writer part, is thinking "This is going to make a hilarious scene in a book someday" and the third part of my brain, the rational part, is like, "This isn't going to end well" and sure enough, Dad lunges at me and I'm like "DAD! You can't DO THAT! I'm YOUR DAUGHTER!" at which point he looks all sheepish and gives me a cute grin and I can't be mad at him because it's Alzheimer's Dad, not Dad Dad and really, this IS going to make a great scene in my novel some day but OMG, teenage me is still freaking out because her dad just made a pass at her in the elevator.

Or the times when he gets agitated and reverts back to his time working in the intelligence service. "Did you see the men with the guns?" He'll ask me. I've learned to just meet him where he is. "I've scanned the area, Dad, and it's all secure now. But it's safe because of you. Great job of being on the look out."

I try to find the humor in it, but that's because I have to in order to stay sane. There is nothing funny about this disease. I hate it with a passion. It is evil and heartbreaking, and it has robbed me of conversations I want to have with my father, ones I kick myself for not having before.

That is why I'm once again participating in the Walk for Alzheimer's. If you are able to support our team at any level, I will be extremely grateful.

Here's where to donate: http://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk/CT-Connecticut?px=6866996&pg=personal&fr_id=3300

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