My Father

My father -- my once brilliant (literally genius brilliant), quick-witted, engaging, funny, bright, father - has all but disappeared.  I know what's in store for him in the months to come.  Thank god he doesn't.  Words cannot express how much I dread what I'm about to see -  and from witnessing Mom's demise, I have the distinct displeasure of knowing exactly what I'm about to see.

It's not his death I find so abhorrent; it's the goddamn misery in the dying.  If he'd been just an average Joe or some middle-of-the-road schmuck who muddled through an unremarkable life in an unremarkable way, it wouldn't be so hard to watch.  The disparity wouldn't be so great.  But he was not just an average Joe; he was quite remarkable, and the disparity between what he was and what he has become is enormous.  I know it and so does he.  That's the hell of it.  He know it too.

It will be better for him when he no longer remembers all that he has lost.

I've witnessed Dad's frustration over the last 5 years as the FORGETTING encompassed every aspect of his life.  He suddenly couldn't button buttons.  He couldn't zip zippers.  He couldn't tie shoelaces.  I foolishly tried to show him how - as if I could teach him what to do.  As a parent, I'd taught the same things to my son, and I was under the misguided impression my father could still learn (or at least re-learn) to do what he'd done every day of his life for the past 80 years.  I was wrong. There was a lot I didn't know about Alzheimer's disease.

It never occurred to me he would forget how to open a refrigerator.  I had no idea he would stand in front of the sink in the bathroom, unable to remember how to turn on the water.  I didn't know he would forget how to read and write; how to turn on the television; how to use the telephone; how to go to the bathroom; how to use silverware; how to blow his nose; or how to pull the covers up at night to stay warm.

Everything the rest of us do automatically from the moment we wake up until we go to bed...  all those things have been wiped from his memory.  He struggles every minute of his life.  I wonder what that feels like - waking up one morning and not remembering how to get dressed.   I wonder what it feels like to discover you can't remember how to make a phone call, or write your name, or read the paper.  It is unimaginable.  

What do you suppose is the worst part?  Is it the beginning: the horror of being acutely aware you're losing your mind?  Is it the middle: the terror of knowing something is dreadfully wrong, but not understanding what's happening to you?  Or is it the end: when you can no longer communicate and are forced to languish for years until you finally waste away and die?

Since I'm asking questions, how about this one: where is God?

I sat with my father in church today, listening to a sermon he cannot hear, holding a hymnal he cannot read, reciting prayers he cannot say, begging for mercy which never comes.  Talk about an exercise in futility!  The absurdity of it all nearly made me laugh out loud.  If I hadn't been fighting back tears, I would have.

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