photo credit: Joe Howell
- Sometimes our hearts get tangled
- And our souls a little off-kilter
- Friends and family can set us right
- And help guide us back to the light.
— Sera Christann
If you’ve been reading here lately, you probably know that my nuclear family (and nuclear is exactly the right term) has been facing a bit of a crisis. By nuclear I mean me, my siblings and my father. There’s nothing quite like a dance with dementia to get the juices flowing.
As you may recall, the Friday before Christmas Dad chose to drive the wrong way down a divided highway. This resulted in a short hospital stay, a tentative diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and a statement by the medical personnel involved that it was no longer safe for Dad to live alone. The advantage/disadvantage of Alzheimer’s is that Dad doesn’t remember that he has dementia. This means that he believes we are keeping him captive to torture him and he is doing his best to tell everyone how awful we are.
My brother Mac has been the hero of the story. As my father’s ability to cope decreased, my brother worked hard to maintain Dad’s quality of life. While running the family business, Mac regularly kept Dad up to date on the day-to-day issues that he was facing. Not to say that Dad ever appreciated what was being done, but Mac kept him up to date anyway.
Divide and Conquer
When Dad finally had to move out of his home, Mac and I divided up the labor. He got Dad, I got Dad’s house. My sister helped Mac while she was here, but once she and her family went home, she was too far away to actively participate.
As part of the “house” duties, and as the oldest, I inherited the “notify” job. This meant that as I sorted the piles of papers and came across correspondence from friends and relatives, I had the responsibility to call people that I hadn’t spoken to in over 30 years and tell them of Dad’s changed status.
Being a generally long-lived family, there are plenty of Dad’s cousins out there who need to be notified. There are also several family friends who have popped up on phone lists or Christmas cards. In all, I’ve found several cousins, my Godfather and my Godmother. My brother and sister’s godparents may be out there, but we don’t know who they are so there’s not much we can do.
It has been absolutely fascinating. Not a shy person, I don’t have any problem calling these people, identifying myself and quickly explaining that Dad is alive, though not in the best of mental health. What has happened after that has been reassuring.
PattiAnn, It’s Been So Long
My nuclear family was always insular, meaning that we kept to ourselves to preserve our secrets. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that we had more secrets than most, but only as I’ve made contact with these long lost relatives and family friends have I realized what we’ve missed.
Every single person that I have reached has been delighted to hear from me. (Would I tell you if they weren’t?) They have all been sorry to have lost contact with “us kids” as we grew up and left home. The reason that we lost contact is that both Mac and I left home to protect ourselves from the craziness there. Since we were out of contact with our folks for an extended period of time, we assumed that their friends and relatives wouldn’t want to talk to us either because we were officially banned.
In reality Mom and Dad had never told them why we left or where we disappeared to. As I’ve explained the situation to them, they have been supportive and sorry that they didn’t know how badly Dad had deteriorated. Some reported that they had recently had strange conversations with Dad, but what could they do? Really, no one could do anything until the whole situation unraveled.
It doesn’t really change anything. In reality, the situation that my siblings and I face is ours and ours alone. Even so, it’s nice to talk to these folks. It’s nice to know that they regret what is happening to their friend/relative and are praying for all of us as we navigate the difficult waters ahead.
Last Sunday was Book Club. Every year at this time, we get together and choose the books for the coming year. It’s a nice way to welcome the new year and a way to have something good to look forward to. (We also usually have something to dread – the tradition of the “Damn Book.” This refers to February’s book which often is long and difficult. One of our favorite past times is to grouse about the “Damn Book.” What is life without traditions?)
I knew when I walked into Book Club that everyone knew the challenges I face. No one said anything until the very end. Then for a while I told my story. As we left, everyone came up to me and told me that they would pray for me.
How can I not “bounce” when I have so many people in my corner?