A Christmas Symphony Charade in Alzheimer’s Minor
Posted on December 23, 2013
My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a little more than 5 years ago and I’ve seen the changes in him from one year to the next. It’s not fun to examine them by any stretch of the imagination, but it is necessary. He was able to walk all the way around the inside of Lakeside Mall last year. Not this year. He can barely make it around Macomb Mall without cutting a few sections short and without losing his balance, which he doesn’t realize he’s doing and frequently insists that he’s not. Prior to a year ago, I could take him to a local park and we’d walk around it several times. Not anymore. He’s getting worse and as this happens, it has peculiar effects on those around him. Take holidays for example.
Dad no longer remembers birthdays other than his own. He can’t tell me when he and my mother got married, when her birthday is (which is the same day as their anniversary), how long they’ve been married, when my birthday is or what month it currently even is. He’s lost in time and maybe that’s not a horrible thing. I can imagine worse things and some of those are probably yet to come.
The weird thing, at least for me, is when we continue to go to certain lengths to keep him an active part of a holiday. I took dad out last week to pick out a couple of cards for him to give mom. We walked into the store, I reminded him again of why we were there, then he walked up to the section of cards for ‘wife’ and randomly picked one up.
“This one,” dad announces.
“You like that one?” I ask.
“What do you like about it?”
“Well, I like the way it looks and what it says.” He’s emphatic. This is the one. It’s also the only one he’s looked at.
“What does it say that you like?”
“Wow…I don’t know.”
Which is why I hold onto it and suggest we look at a couple more cards. I help him. He picks another one out and I’m kind of astonished. The saying in the card doesn’t really fit, but he’s picked one out that features a Thomas Kincaid painting. My parents love Kincaid’s work, so I can’t help but wonder if he’s subconsciously picked up on it or if it’s merely a coincidence. I buy the cards for him (the Kincaid and then one I suggest to him after I put the other one back) and once we got back to the house some fifteen minutes later, I ask him to sign them.
“Cards?” Dad asks.
“Yes. You just bought them about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Who are they for?” He continues to look at the two cards as if they’ve appeared out of nowhere.
“Oh. Should I put her name on the envelope?”
“That would probably be a good idea,” I tell him. “Otherwise how will she know they’re for her?”
“Right,” he agrees. “How do you spell her name?”
That’s a new one. He’s never asked that before. Ever.
We also bought a candle for her that his name will go on. That’s where I start to wonder if we’re simply trying to fool ourselves or if it just hasn’t occurred to us to end this charade. Mom wraps gifts and some of the items are from her, some from both of them and some from dad. Same here for her. Yet we both know dad hasn’t picked them out nor is he even capable of it anymore. He has no clue what he’s giving us and even when she’s told him and he’s seen it or we’ve thanked him for it, it’s forgotten within 90 seconds.
Does he feel like he’s part of the festivities? I can’t imagine he does. If there’s nothing there for him—he’s like a little kid in that respect where he has to be entertained or he starts to wander around the house—he’ll want to get up and work his puzzle or do a word search on the computer. So, no. I don’t think it registers anymore.
Why then do we go through the motions of giving things to each other solely with his name on the tag? I’m really struggling with this. He’s included in the holiday insomuch that he’s there, we have him sit with us, give him gifts, we interact with him, maybe even watch a movie we think will keep his attention and then have to watch him like a hawk when he eats. If we don’t, then he doesn’t know when to quit putting things in his mouth and he’ll choke. And then we have to watch him when he drinks because if we don’t, he’ll gulp and choke.
This isn’t to say I feel he should be ignored. That’s not it at all. I just think it’s time we recognize he’s not participating the way he used to and maybe we need to do things different to reflect that.
I could be wrong.
I honestly don’t know.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.
8 Responses to “A Christmas Symphony Charade in Alzheimer’s Minor”
December 23, 2013 at 10:23 am
No you are not wrong. It’s hard to see some so full of life become a shell of what they were. It happend to my father and now it is happening to his sister. You want the. To remember what is going on around them and they can’t. You try so hard to give them things to help but in the end you are really setting yourself up for pain and heartache. I am sorry I am,not much help on this. Remember the good times the fun times hold on to those memories to get you thru this and the time you spend with him.
December 23, 2013 at 10:26 am
If there ever were a definition of “bittersweet,” Kris, it is your situation with your dad. I can’t begin to comprehend how difficult this is on your entire family, or how frustrating. I can understand the bitterness reflected unconsciously in your reactions to your dad. It is a terrible thing to go through.
Yet…he is still there. Still with you. You are still able to hug him and tell him how much you love him. There will come a time when this will not be possible. All the memories of him you have now you will have after he is gone but the one thing that will be missing is his physical presence. Consider that presence a gift.
With total empathy,
Kiernan Kelly says:
December 23, 2013 at 10:49 am
I think, as difficult as it is to hear, that you and your mom do these things for you and your mom…and that’s not a bad thing. While it reminds you of how much your dad has lost, it also reminds you of the years when he played an active role in holiday traditions, and keeps that memory in the forefront rather than the loss I know you and your mom feel. Having dad play a part in the holiday gift-giving, even if it’s only an illusion, is still better than the alternative. I agree with Dorien. Continue to play the game. Sadly, we know there will come a time when you’ll be glad you did. *hugs*
December 23, 2013 at 11:20 am
I have to agree with Kiernan too, play the game. Too soon the game will not be able to be played. Thank you for sharing this with us!
Patricia (Trish) Hebel says:
December 23, 2013 at 11:31 am
I know this is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around, but here it is. My mother, at 89, isn’t altogether “with it”. I have had to learn to involve her in things like I had to involve my daughter when she was little. It is a hard thing to deal with. You are used to your parents being the strong ones. To have to get into the mode of involving them as though they were your kids is rather frightening. I still respect my mother as an adult. It’s just when she gets in her “modes”, that I switch to being the parent of a small child.
Patricia Logan says:
December 23, 2013 at 11:44 am
I can’t imagine how difficult this is, and it is especially exacerbated with holiday rituals. Believe it or not, because you have documented your struggles so diligently, you will be able to go back and read about all the happy times that you had with him, even during these disheartening times. Holiday traditions are important and they are not just games we play, though it may seem like it. You may not realize how much he does remember or will remember of your holidays together, until later. His memories come as flashbacks, not necessarily linear as ours do and you can be assured that he will have wonderful ones in there somewhere. Thank you for sharing the difficult journey that you are on with us. I know it hurts to write it down… it hurts to read it to, but it is important in the scheme of things. Many blessings to you this holiday season, my friend <3
Joelle Casteel says:
December 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm
All I can think is cyber hugs. While my mother-in-law had a stroke and her memory seems to be largely unaffected, I’m looking at the beginning of changes and her not wanting to. Wanting to go to her home, even though the inpatient rehab favored her going home with my Master (her son) and I. Wanting things to work, so she wouldn’t lose her independence. But yeah, I think (although I sit at not doing the level of caretaking you’re doing yet) that doing what we can to include makes sense until it no longer makes sense. I’m not sure that’s always something that can be easily figured though
Katherine trick says:
December 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm
Keeping up the traditions and including dad as much as possible is not only good for him, but for you and mom, too. Sometimes it may seem like a struggle in futility, but in the end you will be glad you did. The holidays will be a little different for all of you this year, but I hope they are good, just the same. Share some stories and some laughter and, most of all, time together and it will be a Christmas you will remember fondly later on down the road.
Merry Christmas, my friend. *HUGS*