I was planning to work up until the day we left on our big adventure, viagra but that all changed with my dad’s diagnosis of a rapidly progressing dementia. Since my mother passed away five years ago, stuff my dad has suffered multiple strokes and struggled with his mental and physical health. My sister and I knew that we’d have to care for him one day, malady but we never expected it to be so soon.
When the doctor told us to find a memory care center in preparation for our dad’s progressing illness, we left the office shocked and in tears. Jenni and I had many conversations about canceling our trip. My sister selflessly encouraged us to go assuring us that we should follow our dreams and that she would take care of as much as she could. In the end, we decided to still go with the expectation of coming home at any point if needed. To balance the large amount of guilt that I felt leaving, I left my job two months early in order to spend more time with my dad.
Unfortunately, most of these past months with my dad revolved around a large to-do list. The non-stop adventures of senior caregiving included six visits to the doctor, four trips to the bank, two trips to the DMV, a visit at the notary, and an appointment with his attorney to sort out his affairs. My sister and I also took a whirlwind tour of Bay Area senior care facilities to look into a place closer to her home. To manage my dad during these errands, I would bring candy for the road – one pack to get him in the car and one pack to reward him when we finished.
With all these errands, my dad and I spent most of our remaining time together in the car. Dementia has slowed down my dad’s speech, and he often loses track of his thoughts. Once an outgoing speaker, he now prefers to be silent and only answers questions with a small handful of words. Although my dad had difficulty getting in and out of Jenni’s low convertible, he always seemed to look forward to the drive with the top down. We created quite a scene whenever I picked him up at his senior home – I would toss his walker in the trunk and a bench full of little old ladies would wave us goodbye as we drove off in Jenni’s sports car. Watching him close his eyes with the wind in his face, I caught some glimpses of contentment in my father. With his reality of a forgotten past and a future full of anxiety, I am relieved to sit with him during calm moments in the present.
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It feels unfair to watch my father become disabled at the young age of 61, and I’ve felt everything from grief and pity to anger and resentment. Recently at my cousin’s wedding, guests would ask me ‘whose parents are yours?’ while trying to sort out our expansive family tree. I hated having to answer, “my mom passed away five years ago and my father couldn’t make the trip because he has dementia.” (FYI: That answer only gets you great looks of pity and most often a change of the conversation.) My aunts and uncles have filled in as bonus parents, but sometimes seeing them also reminds me of how much I miss my own parents.
Yet, I never try to have a pity party for too long. I think about my dad’s dedication to me as a daughter, and I know I wouldn’t trade him in for any other father. He sent me to the best schools and made sure that we had dinner together as a family every night. He went to the office at 6am so that he could get off by 3pm to attend my games – and there were a lot of games! Throughout high school and college, I had a basketball, softball, volleyball, cross country or rugby match several times a week. My dad didn’t even particularly love sports, but he attended every one of my games.
Leaving my father for this one-year trip meant that he might not recognize me the next time we meet. When we said goodbye last Saturday, he told me to have fun and be safe. He still has his wits about him to give good fatherly advice. I told him to keep fighting to get better so that I don’t have to worry about him while I’m gone. Of course it’s impossible not to worry. But I try to honor him by enjoying the present moment and never taking for granted the brevity of life.