Travels with Dad
—-This is a story of a complex relationship with my father, Al, who I came to love and understand after he was diagnosed with dementia.—-
It was often mentioned by family members that Al looked like his mother. They not only resembled each other, they also shared the love of eating, music, and dancing. They were very close. We were all close to my Grandparents. We were so lucky to have spent every Sunday with them during the early years, as they drove 35 miles south to our house every weekend to garden, cook, and spend time with the family. It was a lovely ritual; one that our whole family looked forward to.
When Grandpa died in 1981, Grandma was heartbroken. Many things changed, including the end of the Sunday trips. The loss had a heavy impact on Al. He not only missed his father, but his relationship with his mother changed. He became more of a companion to her, and made an effort to visit her often, especially when he retired.
Then, Grandma began displaying signs of dementia. It wasn’t until she was well into the condition that we became aware. Al, who spent a lot of time with her, had never mentioned that anything was out of the ordinary.
In 1995, Grandma had to move out of her beloved home and into an adult home to receive the constant supervision she was so in need of. That meant that Al’s relationship with her changed again. The time he spent with her trailed off drastically because he didn’t know where she lived. By now, Al also had dementia.
Eventually, Grandma needed more care than the Adult Home could provide, and she moved into the facility where I worked. Mom and Dad visited her there regularly. In the nicer weather, they often wheeled Grandma to the court-yard to sit under the canopy.
As always and without fail, when Mom and Dad arrived, Grandma smiled instantly. She was so happy to see them, especially her son. In about 30 seconds, her smile would reverse, and the “worried mother” look took over. Her demeanor remained unchanged for the rest of each visit.
I often joined them for few minutes to socialize and give them an update on how she was doing. On one particular visit, we were all sitting under the canopy in the courtyard. All of a sudden, with Grandma focused on my father, she blurted out “Are you hurt?” Her dementia had affected her speech, so both my mother and I were amazed that she got this question out. Even more amazing was the fact that she recognized that there was something wrong with her beloved son. This certainly illustrates the profound love and connection a mother has for her child, regardless of his age. Her question explained the “worried looks” that always took over when they visited.
Al’s answer had an annoyed tone. “No!” he said, “I’m not hurt!” That ended the conversation. Al never admitted to anyone that he wasn’t feeling well, or that something was not right.
Our family was struggling with the constant deterioration of both of these family members. On the days when my parents visited my Grandmother, I can remember watching them and thinking that this can’t be happening. Both of them……mother and son, Grandma and Dad, deteriorating at the same time, from the same disease. It was heartbreaking and painful to watch.