Some goodbyes are easy. Some are hard. I’ve experienced both. But this new goodbye is agonizing. My heart aches. Tears fall easy. I am walking out a long goodbye.
My dad has Alzheimer’s. His symptoms began a few years ago. My mom was determined to take care of him at home until she experienced her own health scare about a year ago and needed a heart pacemaker. Suddenly Mom was no longer invincible. She talked with my two sisters and me about her options. More and more she began to think the impossible – Dad needed more care than what any of us could provide. Still, she wavered with the weight of the decision. One day she was going to “muddle through;” two days later she was ready to find a nursing home.
Clearly Dad’s condition was taking a toll on her. By late summer she reached the decision that changed our lives. Mom found a facility which specialized in memory care. Papers were signed, meetings were held, and before any of us were ready, Dad moved into his new home. While the move was painful and traumatic for everyone involved, we knew it was the best option for Dad and for Mom.
At first Dad could carry on a somewhat normal dialogue that made sense. He was aware of his surroundings. He still said our names or included us as we chatted about life and attempted to have a regular conversation.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is cruel, and its assault on my dad’s brain has been relentless. Now nearly seven months later, he doesn’t talk much. When he does, his conversations don’t make a lot of sense. He hasn’t said our names in a long time. He still recognizes me, but there is a far-away look in his eyes.
This week my mother will sign papers to begin hospice care. While I don’t believe Dad’s death is imminent, each breath he draws brings him closer to his last. I visit him when I can. He is loved by the staff, and our family is grateful for the care they give him.
He doesn’t walk now, so I wheel him down the hallways. Sometimes he greets other residents or the staff with his big “Hello!” or a wave of his hand.
I usually roll him to a small sunroom where the two of us can have some privacy. I let him lead the “conversation” which means I usually smile and agree with whatever he says. (On top of Alzheimer’s, Dad has a profound hearing loss from his days in the Navy.) However, we do connect playing Yahtzee. Or at least we roll the dice. Once in a while Dad recognizes he has “fours” or “twos.”
Yet more and more, he stares out of eyes that don’t see me before he drifts off to sleep. I find myself praying quietly while I watch him, asking God to finish Dad’s mansion and call him home.
And then comes the long goodbye. I put my arms around his thin shoulders and hold tight. I don’t want to let go. Sometimes Dad reaches up to pat my arm. The tears come. I kiss his forehead. I tell him I love him, and I say goodbye . . . one more heart-breaking, long goodbye.
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