I Was Your Sunshine Dad, Do You Remember. Living With Alzheimer’s.

I was always daddy’s girl.  To this day I still can’t cook very well, because instead of helping my mum in the kitchen like other girls did, I would follow my dad around.  I would go into his workshop and ask what all the tools were for and the use of each one.  When he had to make a trip to cut wood, or haul things to the garbage dump. I always went.  To me these were grand adventures and I loved to see new things and explore.  Even if the locations weren’t the most picturesque.

My dad was my friend, he was always the calm one.  When I would fight with mum, which became more and more in my teenage years, I could go for a walk with dad and he would give me peace, with a calmer viewpoint on things.  My dad and I walked many miles growing up. Dad was also a singer. No one really knew this outside of our home, but he was always singing, whistling or humming a tune.  He loved country music and knew words to many songs.  I didn’t realize how happy that made me feel until I went back through my memories and the house was almost lit up with his singing.  It was a happy time, we had a normal happy home growing up.  Middle class Canadian.

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The years went past, and I grew up got married and moved away.  I didn’t see dad as much anymore because we lived several provinces away. However, when we came to visit I always joined him in his walks.

It was when he was in his late 60’s that I noticed slight changes.  His memory wasn’t as good, and he would repeat things he had said.  My mum reported him doing odd things, like making cereal with water instead of milk like he had done all his life.  Tiny little flickers of change had begun.    When my husband Andrew and I went to visit them with our children the patience that was there when they were young seemed to be ebbing away, and his temper becoming shorter.

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My mum began to cover up for my dad.  She was, I believe, embarrassed and scared.  When we would direct questions at my dad, and my mum would answer for him.  He began to follow her around like a lost puppy, unsure of himself and losing all his confidence.

As things progressed he started to treat me like a neighbour, or a care worker.  I realized after it was because he was already beginning to forget who I was in his life.  I once told him I was his daughter and he said no his daughter was much younger than I was, he was going back in time. I adjusted to this fact slowly and painfully.  I had tears along the way, but no regrets, as dad and I had always shared a bond and I knew he truly loved me.  Now I had to take care of him as best as I could. I would read books and research as much as I could, hoping I could find a way to slow it down.

At this point mum and dad were living in assisted living.  Here that means it’s an apartment style home, with your meals made for you in a general eating area.  It’s a good idea if there are any health issues, as others are around to keep an eye out, also its good company for them to meet with other seniors. Within the year, dads Alzheimer’sgrew rapidly worse.   I remember getting a call from my mum that dad had been at the front desk of the building asking when the boat was coming to take him to his family.  It now appeared in his mind he was living at the 20-year-old stage.

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Around this time, my mum was hospitalized for dehydration.  What I haven’t told you yet is she was battling ovarian cancer.  She was the kind of person who didn’t let others know her feelings, and her fears.  My mum was stoic and strong until the end.  When she was in the hospital I said I would take my dad home.  Well, he came in the door, and within minutes started asking me where mum was, I told him and he got very angry at me.  He thought I was lying and I was for the first time scared of my dad.  This gentle person who never hit me my whole life, looked like he was going to hurt me.  I kept the kitchen island between us, until he calmed down, and I took him straight back to the hospital.  He did not take comfort in the love of his daughter, he didn’t recognize me.

Then one evening, my mum asked my dad to drive to the corner to get a newspaper….my dad did not return.  It was an evening in the middle of March in Manitoba.  There is still snow on the ground and the temperatures can vary from quite cold to just plain cold.  We drove around looking for my dad and calling him.  I remember my brother and I driving country roads in the dark yelling his name out of the car window.  My husband was also driving looking for him in the opposite direction.  I don’t know what my mum was thinking at this time.  I think she was so tired and overwhelmed.  She never told me if she broke down and cried, but I imagine the truth was beginning to set in with her.   We contacted the police, and then at 1 am we had no choice but to return home and wait for news.   At 7 am it came!   Dad had been found in a farmer’s field about 40 minutes away.  The farmer had been quite nervous about him, as my dad was found walking around saying he had to get home for dinner with the family.   The farmer had armed himself with an axe, because my dad was displaying odd behaviour.   Dad somehow drove 25 km in the wrong direction onto a dirt road and eventually ending up in a farmer’s field in the grass.  He had no coat just the shirt he had on. He was so lucky to be found alive, and that he didn’t hit anyone with his car.  It was clear to me at this point that I had to take over the decision making for dad, as mum could not do it.  I handed the RCMP his keys and called the emergency social worker.

Dad was placed into temporary housing within the week. This was so hard, but you know what the funny thing was, he didn’t seem to even understand.  He adjusted very quickly and started helping to push the other patients around in their wheelchairs.  We would go and visit him, and he seemed to enjoy the visits, but I don’t think he really knew it was me.  He began to whistle again, so I knew he was somewhat happy inside.   I did feel guilty, but his safety and the safety of others became paramount.   Dad lived the last year of his life in a nice small nursing home, that was near my house so that I could visit him often.  These visits weren’t for my dad anymore, as he did not recognize me at all.  They were for me, to love him and spend time with him, as I knew he had for me all those years when I was young.

Dad eventually passed away later that year from the natural progression of Alzheimer’s.  The battle was over, and it was time to let him go.  I prefer to remember my dad as the vibrant, creative, happy, loving person he was before the Alzheimer’saffected his brain and personality.

He was my dad, and I was his sunshine.

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