Saturday, December 6, 2008

Beginning to Say Goodbye

I don't know how to write this post. I've been thinking it over for quite a while now, and I'm no closer to knowing what I want to say. I just know I need to say something. So here goes.

My father in law has Alzheimer's disease.

There. I finally put that in writing. Since his diagnosis a few months ago, I've been trying not to believe it, or to push it into the future; I've tried to think it's no big deal right now, just something that might be an issue in a few years. But it isn't.

We hadn't seen Dad for six months or so when we went out for the summer wedding. Already, it was clear that he wasn't quite himself. Once twinkly-eyed, engaged, and eager to laugh, he seemed distant and quiet. He'd respond if spoken to, but wasn't really able to carry on a conversation. He still did his woodworking, but the craftsmanship was gone. He would overeat, by several platefuls if not stopped, apparently forgetting the meal he had just had.

Dad and Mom came to us for Thanksgiving this year, as always, but for the first time their kids drove them here. Dad protested at first, but in the end he said he enjoyed being driven and watching the scenery from the passenger seat.

All of us knew this would probably be the last Thanksgiving where he would understand what was going on. Of course, I wanted it to be perfect. And of course, it wasn't. In fact, it was the worst turkey I ever served. Maybe the Alzheimer's was a mercy in that particular instance, because he ate like a farmhand and seemed to enjoy every bite, flaws and all.

He seemed his old self sometimes, exploring the house and property with Mom and my husband, congratulating us on the place and taking the new tractor out for a spin whenever he could. Then, there would be moments ... when he couldn't recall how to shake up a cruet of salad dressing; couldn't find the drinking glasses, though he'd been shown several times where they were; when he slipped on my coat instead of his own, though they look nothing alike, and didn't notice; when he couldn't play his favorite card game without help.

Mom has changed, too. Her naturally controlling tendencies have gone into overdrive. She is never more than a few feet away from Dad, watching his every move, commenting on or "correcting" most of them. She is exhausting herself already with his care.

Most disconcerting for me is Dad's blank passivity in the face of all this. Time was, he'd have put up quite a fuss at being bossed around. No more.

My husband's family is a practical, unsentimental lot. They seem to be taking this in stride, adapting to and accommodating Dad's needs without missing a beat. I envy them their resilience.

Maybe it's partly having lost my own mother this year, and missing my own Dad still, but I'm afraid I'm not handling this nearly as well. I'm trying to find some way to be at peace with this inevitable loss, but the process of the disease is so cruel.

It's like watching him fade, going transparent at the edges, like an old horror movie come frighteningly to life. The Invisible Man. And it isn't out there, up ahead. It's now. It's really happening. Right now.


spookydragonfly said...

I would say that you are handling the reality of this disease...just as you sharing...with everyone. You will receive support and encouragement to help you with your coping skills. I'm no expert on this subject, but I managed the independant and assisted living facilities of a continuing care Retirement Community. I dealt with residents who were suffering from mild dementia to full blown Alzheimer's on a daily basis. Indeed, the toll placed on family members was heartbreaking on so many levels. My husbands' mother suffered from this same disease from a young age for years...although I never met her...I've heard how hard it was on all. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. Keep sharing...we're all listening.

Feel free to delete this comment, if you wish, I carried on hurt feelings.

sallyacious said...

Oh, boy, do I hear you on this. My husband's father also has Alzheimer's. The difference in our situation is that he was a domineering tyrant who was, I suspect, verbally abusive. I don't know that for sure, because I only met him once when I was younger, but so much of what I know about him fits that picture. That part is gone now, but it adds to the conflicting emotions his children are experiencing.

Anyway, he's going too. We suspected a problem ten years ago when he couldn't find ice in our kitchen, even though he was standing in front of the refrigerator, but he kept denying it and refusing treatment. He finally started getting help about three years ago, but from the things the family has had to deal with since, I think he's going downhill quickly.

Three years ago, he didn't recognize me at the family Christmas party. Fine. He's met me maybe six times, so I wasn't all that hurt or surprised. But I am so afraid of what it's going to be like when we see him again later this month. What if he doesn't recognize my husband, his own son?

And of course, my husband worries about whether that's in his own future, which is probably worse than all the rest of it.

JC said...

I'm so sorry to hear this, and more sorry that I don't have words of encouragement except to try to maintain a positive attitude for your husband... and have faith that God says He won't give us more than we can handle.

Best wishes...

Martha said...

I'm so sorry you are having to deal with this. I went through it while caring for my grandfather. It's a terrible disease. I pray that it will progress slowly. (((Hugs)))

MyMaracas said...

Spooky, I'd never delete your comment. I always hesitate to post such personal things, especially when they are sad. Your encouragement is certainly appreciated.

Sally, I'm so sorry your family is dealing with this too. I too dread the day when Dad doesn't know us anymore. My husband hasn't said anything yet about worries for his own future, but I've certainly thought about it. I'm trying not to imagine that future.

JC, thanks for the kind words. I hope you're right.

Martha, you too? This is apparently much more common than I thought. That's scary. I'm sorry you and your loved ones had to go through this.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and for the good thoughts and prayers. I think we're going to need all we can get.

ramblingwoods said...

Oh I am so sorry. Putting something into words does have a certain finality to it doesn't it. I took a phone call from my mother-in-law who is very upset. Earlier this year she lost her long time childhood friend and this week, her last remaining long time friend. These 3 were friends from the time Mom arrived in the US at age 13 after escaping Nazi Germany. They did everything together. But Lillian had Alzheimers and it was so painful to Mom to watch, but not as painful as losing her to death. I guess I would say that you have to enjoy your FIL as he is and for what he has to offer. A very damned disease that steals who we are....

MyMaracas said...

Hi, Rambling. I'm so sorry for your mom. It has to be hard, being the last of the three, though I'm sure the process of losing her friend was excruciating. She's lucky to have such a caring daughter to lend a shoulder and a sympathetic ear.