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.—-
Al’s mother, Grandma Mamie, was a born mother-er. She told me on several occasions that she wished she had the chance to raise her sons again because it was so much fun. To fill the void of not being able to raise her kids again, her grandchildren became the happy recipients of her constant doting, especially the girls. She only had sons, so it was no secret that the girl grandchildren were extra special. From washing our hair in beer to make it softer, to making Easter capes for us to wear with our bonnets to Easter mass, there was no mistake of how much she loved her granddaughters.
When Grandma Mamie needed care for the remaining four years of her life, she moved in to the facility where I worked. It was a gift for us to be together. I was in a state of constant awe that I could see her every day. But seeing her was also difficult. She had Alzheimer’s, and although she was still Grandma Mamie at her core, she was also very different. Her world had become very small.
I wanted to create an atmosphere that would make her feel “normal”. I stocked her closet with the clothes and scarfs that she normally wore, and strived to make her comfortable. Over time, it occurred to me that she may like a baby doll since she loved babies and children so much. So one day, I handed her a doll that I had, wrapped up in a blanket, wearing a pretty little dress. She lit up like a Christmas tree. Her reaction exceeded my expectations. I made a big deal out of the baby as she held tightly to her. I walked away with the feeling that I just spent some time with the grandmother that I once knew. Her smile was familiar…a smile I hadn’t seen in several years.
Each day, I made sure she had her baby. At times, I found the baby doll with ice cream on her face. The staff would tell me that she was feeding the baby her dessert. Some of the staff didn’t agree with her having this doll. They thought it wasn’t age-appropriate. But, they didn’t know her, and I didn’t care what they thought. I knew the baby struck a deep chord, and she deserved to feel moments of normalcy and love. The baby doll gave Grandma those feelings.
When Grandma died, I bought her and the doll each a dress to be buried in. The baby doll lays next to Grandma her in the casket, looking like the little angel that she was to her.
During Al’s illness with Alzheimer’s, I gave him doll one day when we were at my house. I did it mainly to distract him because I had some household chores to do, and he seemed restless. To my surprise, he received the little bundle of joy the same way his mother did. He was thrilled to have a little one to care for, and couldn’t stop looking into her eyes. The doll traveled all over with us, and Al was always gentle with her, providing her with good care and attention.
I felt a lump in my throat, thinking that maybe he felt this way about his own five babies, many years ago.