I was at the grocery store today, opening the door to put my groceries away. I turned, and saw a man walking across the parking lot who could have been my dad 10 years ago. A puffy winter coat, and a russian-style winter hat set above his ears, just like dad always wore. It was all I could do to get the bags in the car and get inside before the tears came. Oh, how I miss him. I have to wonder if that wasn’t my dad sending me a message – maybe, maybe not. But my heart. It aches. Such a gaping hole from an amazing man. A raw, fresh gaping hole in the fabric of my being- all thanks to Alzheimer’s Disease.
The coat, the hat… the grief…the holes in my heart, the profound loss of my normal that left when Dad took his last breath last April- it all got me thinking. Alzheimer’s robbed him of everything. Really, and truly EVERYTHING. It doesn’t matter what you have for material things, or how much of a life you have lived, how filled it was with joy and laughter… Alzheimer’s takes it all away. If you’re lucky, the person you love who has the disease loses the realization that they are forgetting their own story, their own memories, before the losses pile up so you’re left with a heap of broken memories.
Of course, those who have to watch are torn apart as they watch, but there is the glimmer of comfort if they aren’t aware they are forgetting the fibers of their thread and the story of their life. Likely the only comfort. And if you are truly lucky, as I was, in the final moments of their final days, when you’re hugging them to you so their pillows can be fluffed and fresh socks put on their chilled feet, you’ll have a moment of awareness from them, a knowing touch on your cheeks that gives you your loved one back for that sliver of a heartbeat, and you will know that Alzheimer’s cannot take it all. It’s funny how this fraction of a second, a gentle touch, can be one of the most profound moments in your life. My memories. MY dad.
Alzheimer’s. It’s a nasty, nasty disease and it took everything. It took his childhood and it took his teen years, his foolish mistakes in college (although to be honest, knowing my dad, I’m not sure he made any foolish mistakes in life)…his work memories, his marriages, his kids- his vacations, his beloved dogs, his lake, his boat… every last thing that mattered. Gone. All that’s left is a hole where we miss him in our hearts, and oh, the memories. The stories. Our memories, our stories- the tales dad told us and the ones we took part in ourselves. Alzheimer’s took dad and it took his everything but it can’t take HIM away. So we keep him alive and we share his memories for him. We remind ourselves of the hats we laughed at, or the coats he wore 20 years past their prime…how practical he always was. We leap at the chance to travel someplace tropical because that’s what dad and mom loved so much. Time in a boat is time spent with dad, remembering how he loved to be in the boat with his dog with the lake breeze on his face. Time spent sailing is treasured and tainted only by the realization that he cannot be there with us.
Alzheimer’s, you can take it all. You will, I know it. I have watched it take everything and then some from some of the people I have loved more than anything in this world. I’ve watched it devastate and break those who are caring for their loved ones, and those left behind. But you can’t take their memories from US. We WILL keep sharing, and we will tell those stories and laugh at the jokes, pull out the photos and #ShareTheirMemories because that’s how we keep you from winning altogether. You can take it all but not what’s in our hearts.
So I ask of you, if you are reading this- if you have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s, or if you have memories of someone who has…. Share them, and share them again. Alzheimer’s Disease takes everything, but let’s not let it take OUR memories…let’s keep our loved ones alive in our hearts and in our stories.
This one’s dedicated to the strongest man I’ll ever know, and the bravest- after all, he raised me as his own and loved me every second of every moment of my life. I will toast to you, Dad, and I will share your memories, your dad-isms, and I will raise a glass in your honor every chance I get.