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.—-
There were many times when I picked Al up for the day and only had a plan to bring him to my house. I often had things I had to get done at home, and knew that he didn’t mind. He was just glad to be “going”.
So, at home, I’d either put Dad to work or set him up with something that would catch his attention, even for a short period of time. This would allow me to do laundry, cook, etc. He’d happily sweep the patio, become engrossed in a picture book or a photo album, watch the Fiore-Family Video, or we’d go for a walk with the dogs.
One day, I threw in the Fiore-Family VHS tape which he and Mom so lovingly put together from the early day reel-to-reel movies of us kids. The entire video was narrated by Al, so I can only assume that hearing his own voice, and seeing the “movies” of his family sparked a sense of normalcy for him, even if it was for a short time. I believe that creating these “normal” moments leaves the person with dementia feeling good, even if they don’t remember what preceded this feeling.
The movie was not only narrated by Al, but he also chose the music that went along with the movies. This means that there’s a lot of Big Band sounds throughout. One of the things Dad and Mom were really good at is dancing. They even won a dance contest that they entered on the spur of the moment when they were out one night. So one day, while the family video was playing, I decided to see if Al still had the dance moves. I grabbed his hand, pulled him to his feet, and began to dance. He went along with me with a little smile of recognition on his face, and he lead me through some dance moves to the Big Band sounds. We probably danced for a minute, but his spirits were lifted, and honestly, so were mine. I would have never thought, in a million years, that I would be dancing with my father. It was really fun.
When we spent time at my house, we often took the dogs for a walk. One day, Al picked up a branch in the Park and carried it all the way home. He was also trying to be funny by turning his hat sideways. The more I laughed at him, the more he tried to make me laugh. On the final stretch home, I ran ahead of him to get my camera. We were both laughing by now. And, I knew the laughter and fun he was experiencing was going to positively affect his mood for a while after the “fun” was over. It affected both of us. It was another memorable day with my father.
Another time wasn’t so fun. Al had been failing cognitively and physically. His movements were slower and not as purposeful. I had to hold his hand during walks to keep him engaged and up to speed with us…not that we were even going fast, while also holding the leashes of 2 big dogs. He just needed this extra support to keep up with this simple activity. We were almost home, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a Rottweiler trotting towards us. All I could do was pull my tribe as fast as I could to get them to safety. I knew that if the Rottweiler made contact with us, my German Shepherd, Michaela would have fought to the bitter end. That’s all I needed. Michaela didn’t know this, but I was the one who was responsible for all of us, not her, and her fighting would have just caused a very serious situation. I made it to my front yard, opened the fence, and at a high-speed, we all flew into the back yard. I slammed the door shut. Out of breath and my heart pounding, I recognized what a close call that was and how lucky we were to be on the other side of the fence. All 4 of us could have been hurt if Michaela had the chance to “defend” us. When I regained my composure, I sadly considered that I was really the only one out of the bunch who was responsible for all of our safety. In other words, it was another reminder that I was now responsible for my father’s safety and well-being, not the other way around anymore.