Working Title “ Robber Strikes Elderly Man- Treasures Untouched”
“Dad, here’s some clean laundry. Do you remember where it goes in your drawer?” I asked.
“Where’s the drawer?” he asked in return, his hand resting on the dresser he’s owned for fifty years.
“I’ll help—that’s right—the handkerchiefs go in the top drawer,” I offered.
“Why is there writing on my handkerchiefs?” he asked.
I answer the same way every time he asks—and he’s asked often. “We label everything for you, Dad. The helpers here wash everyone’s laundry together. Your clothing says ‘David Weis’ so they know it’s yours.” Laundry finished, we browsed through old photo albums—a favorite activity for both of us. Dad named a few old friends but didn’t recognize people he had worked with for years. “Do you remember when you traveled to Australia?” I asked as we looked at photos of hotels and kangaroos.
“It sounds very nice, but it’s not familiar to me,” he replied. Just then, a woman walked down the hall of the supervised facility where they both live. My dad noticed her tottering behind her walker and he called, “Are you OK?” When she didn’t answer, he hurried out to check. I followed. They had a friendly exchange. Anne was fine, and my dad seemed relieved that all was well. She simply had not heard him or perhaps thought he was addressing someone else.
“Thank you, David,” she said, looking up into his intense blue eyes in a wrinkled but clean-shaven face. His 6’2” frame has shrunken a bit over the years, but his bald head has been the same for decades. He smiled and placed a wrinkled hand on her shoulder, which was about as high as his waist. He walked her back to her room, turned on the lights for her and turned to return to his room. Although he had only fifteen feet to travel back to his room, he became disoriented. Seeing me in the hall, he said, “Hi, Cyndie.” He had forgotten I was visiting.
Alzheimer’s strikes unpredictably. Sometimes it robs its victims of kindness, leaving bitterness as a sorry replacement. Sometimes it robs recent memories or the ability to recognize family members. For some, the thief named Alzheimer’s steals judgment and grace, replacing them with behaviors so bizarre that venturing into public is an embarrassment for all involved.
My dad fell victim to the robber. But following six strokes, a heart attack, bypass surgery, 35 years of diabetes, and countless other assaults on his mind and body, it’s hard to determine what treasures Alzheimer’s has added to its loot bag. The robber’s acted with mercy, though. So far, he’s spared the essence of my dad’s soul.
Dad still exudes love toward family members as he reaches out for one more hug—and another. He offers his handkerchief when a tear wells in an eye. Dad hurries to greet visitors and thanks friends who bring flowers or aides who make his bed. He still smiles at stories of his grandson’s antics and enjoys all of his grandchildren. A few weeks ago, his youngest grandson, Alex, came to visit. They stood with their arms around one another, grandpa sitting at the lunch table while Alex, age nine stood next to him.
“What’s your favorite color, grandpa?” asked Alex.
“I like green, how about you?” grandpa asked in return.
“I like green, too,” said Alex.
“How’s school?” asked grandpa.
“Pretty good.” said Alex. “What subject did you like when you went to school?”
“Football,” grandpa replied. He laughed.
“What did you have for lunch?” asked Alex, looking at grandpa’s empty plate.
“I don’t remember,” said grandpa. It had been five minutes since he finished a plate full of liver and onions, broccoli, mashed potatoes and gravy.
My dad enjoys others and lets others enjoy him. He shares emotions and an occasional memory. He is still concerned when told of someone’s illness or surgery. He’s embarrassed if one of his children advocates too strongly or loudly on his behalf. “Don’t make a fuss—I’ll be all right,” he assures me. When the group of folks from his facility recently ventured to an area restaurant, my dad helped them all onto the van and made sure everyone found their rooms upon returning. “This way,” he called from the hallway, “the rooms are over here.” He must have felt like he was a tourist, because he announced they were staying there for the night. Later that day, he didn’t remember what he had eaten at the restaurant or even that they had gone out, but when a staff member said that lifting a woman from her bed was difficult, dad offered to help. Helping with Sadie became his job. He never forgets he is able to help. And while he forgets where clean laundry goes or what trips he’s enjoyed or what he ate for lunch, he remembers to show concern for Sadie and Anne and affection toward Alex. He barely knew Anne when he noticed she was a bit shaky, but there was no confusion in his mind about his ability to help her.
Yes, the robber spared my dad’s most valuable treasures. Hospitality, compassion and admirable social graces are his to keep and ours to enjoy—for now. But we never know what valuables will be stolen next. And dad has an ample share of treasures.
A character profile of the robber Alzheimer’s strikes a stark contrast to my dad. While my dad is patient and kind, Alzheimer’s has no mercy. While my dad is tolerant and empathetic, Alzheimer’s is selfish and cruel. While dad uses his gifts to help those in need, Alzheimer’s hoards the gifts and skills and talents that once belonged to others. Dad lived a life based on principles and always followed the rules. Alzheimer’s blatantly ignores rules, patterns and principles. Dad’s life spans 75 years. Alzheimer’s lingers around for one or two or ten years.
Alzheimer’s is called the merciless robber, the devil’s accomplice, the demon, the long good-bye. David Weis, I call Dad.