In recent years, I've known many people who have had parents diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia. While listening to their stories about the difficulties of not only caring for their parents, but also maintaining relationships with them, I remember having the same thought every single time: "What a terrible way to say goodbye to a loved one."
While you are able to remember them, they are slowly forgetting you and the life you once shared. I always prayed that I would never lose anybody that way, yet here I am. My father has recently been diagnosed with vascular dementia brought on by an undiagnosed and untreated stroke.
We have not been incredibly close over our lifetimes, and I was very much looking forward to us spending some time getting to know one another, now, as adults who had both forgiven the past and put it behind us. I have to be honest with you: I'm angry that I won't ever get the relationship that I always dreamed about having with him. This disease that I've heard others speak about all too often is robbing us from having that father-daughter relationship we were on the road to building, and I truthfully feel ripped off, frustrated and scared.
It is an interesting place I find myself in. On one hand, I'm the loyal daughter, ready and willing to give 100 per cent of myself to a man who, for the most part, didn't give me a fraction of himself. In my quiet times, I ask myself, "Am I taking such good care of him (i.e. taking him to medical appointments, covering the expenses of natural health care), to alleviate some of my guilt?" Guilt for feeling like "I'll help this much, but won't go any further," as a way of protecting myself from the memory that he didn't take care of me, at all. Or if I'm doing it because despite our difficult past, I love him, he is my father, and no matter what else, he is one half of me.
We all end up in the same place. We end up with a loved one who we remember every little thing about, while they don't remember a thing.
I feel torn. I feel angry with myself and with him. I want to help and be there like a good daughter, but then the memories of him not being there for me hit me square between the eyes. That's when my walls come up. And it's during those times where I emotionally draw my lines in the sand, and the famous saying "you can forgive, but you don't forget" has never rung more true for me than in this current situation I'm in with my father.
I sit back and often wonder, how do people who were close to a parent who they're slowly losing to dementia feel? I bet they feel differently than I do: sad that the loving, close relationship they once had will be lost to them forever -- whereas I'm sitting here disappointed because I didn't get that relationship at all. Regardless of what my relationship with my father was prior to his dementia, compared to the relationships of others, one thing is for certain: We all end up in the same place. We end up with a loved one who we remember every little thing about, while they don't remember a thing.
I've begun reading a lot of literature to help me understand what to expect going forward. What lies ahead for not only me, but also for him. One of the things I read that struck me deeply, and gave me encouragement was that "they will always remember how being with you made them feel."
This is what I'm holding on to more than anything. For me, how we make people feel day-to-day in our lives is the most powerful indicator of the impact we're having on those around us. I'm actually drawing great comfort from knowing that at some point down the road, my dad will no longer remember me as his eldest daughter, but as somebody who he is happy to be with. I'm relieved and somewhat soothed knowing that spending time with him, laughing, chatting and loving one another unconditionally, will leave a profound mark on his heart. And, that's really all we can hope to do in every one of our relationships.
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