Papa, This Walk Is For You

by Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP:  Take daily walks.  Not only will it improve your physical fitness Baby Greek goddess and Papabut, according to a UCLA study, it has been  found to increase life expectancy and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Today is my Papa’s 89th birthday.  He is a smart, strong, hard-working, kind man.  He was a Marine who fought in World War II, was shot down and received the Purple Heart.  I was his first grandchild and am his favorite.  I know this because he used to tell me every time we visited him. He has a very special way of making everyone feel like they are his favorite.

I have a lifetime of fond memories of my Papa:  The times he would show me his old stamps and coin collections; the stories he would tell about my Mom and Uncles; the soft, kind voice he would use when talking to me and my three sisters; his strong embrace and gentle kiss on my cheek. 

I also remember the first time my Papa had no idea who I was.  I was pregnant with my second child.  My then 3-year-old daughter and I met my Papa, my Nana and my Mom for lunch.  They were in town looking at sheep… that’s another story for another post. 

We were seated when they walked in.  We enthusiastically stood and there were hugs all around.  My Papa looked confused and there wasn’t an iota of recognition in his eyes.  At one point during the meal he quietly asked my Nana if he should know us.  My heart broke and it brings tears to my eyes now just thinking about that moment.  A lifetime of loving memories not remembered.

Since then, which was about two years ago, he has deteriorated considerably.  After some rough moments, my Mom had to make the unbelievably tough decision to put him in a nursing home.  Sometimes he forgets how to chew, sometimes he thinks he’s back in the Marines, sometimes he thinks he’s a young boy back in Indiana, sometimes he’s violent.

And sometimes he wonders aloud when he can go home.

I often wonder how my Mom feels about the man she’s called Daddy for 63 years.  She visits him regularly and listens patiently as he tells her stories of a life they shared.  I hope she knows how strong and brave I think she is.

I wonder, too, how my Nana feels.  They’ve been married 65 years, weathered the depression and had three children together.  Their lives have been filled with highs and lows, disappointments and successes.  My Nana visits him almost daily but he doesn’t know who she is.

Mostly I wonder how he feels.  Does he miss his wife of 65 years?  Does he even remember he has three children let-alone eight grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren?  Is he lonely?  Is he sad?  Is he confused by his surroundings and his fellow “inmates.” 

I read The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks many years ago, before my Papa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and thought it was such a lovely yet sad story. 

I wondered how I would feel in a similar situation.  Now I know.

Happy Birthday Papa.  I love you.   

UPDATE: My Papa died on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 just 8 days before his 90th birthday… now he has all his memories back.

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  1. wiredtoinspire’s avatar

    This is a lovely tribute to your Papa, both the good memories and the bittersweet parts of the present. I hope you will continue to find the strength you need to process the losses.

  2. Stamford Talk’s avatar

    I agree with the first commenter. I’m glad you wrote the post, even if it was hard.

  3. Martin’s avatar

    Your Papa is lucky to have family that selflessly devote time to him at this stage in his life. Actually, it isn’t all luck. We all need to stock up on good will.

    I once had a kind of inverse experience. I was waiting in the foyer of an extended care facility for my GF who was volunteering. A patient approached me and was very happy to see me as she was certain that I was one of her loved ones coming to take her home. It was very awkward.

  4. TheOrganicSister’s avatar

    Of all the things to go thru, I imagine Alzeimers to be the most difficult. I’m so sorry it’s touching your life in such a way. I can’t begin to imagine.

  5. wiredtoinspire’s avatar

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing a comment. It’s always nice to hear what people are thinking!

  6. lamarguerite’s avatar

    Thanks Wendy. Beautiful, and very moving post! My mother, too suffers from dementia. The good part is she forgets and does not even remember all the hardship that comes with her condition.

  7. Leslie- La Mama Naturale'’s avatar

    Awww! What a beautiful tribute. I can only imagine. That’s a toughie. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  8. Wendy Gabriel’s avatar

    Wired to Inspire, Stamford Talk, Martin, The Organic Sister, La Marguerite and Leslie – La Mama Naturale’,
    Thank you all so much for your kind comments regarding my Papa! Hope you all stop back soon!


  9. Nancy’s avatar

    Happy belated birthday to Papa. What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing!

    Ironically, I just heard over the weekend about the benefits of exercise for keeping your brain sharp & keeping Alzheimers away (on PBS’ ‘Change your brain, change your life’). Apparently the universe is trying to tell me something ;).

    I keep trying to discipline myself to walk more, and this is good reason.

    Thank you again for sharing…I had a friend pass away about 10 years ago from early onset Alzheimers (he was 53) and it was very difficult. I’ve said a prayer for you all!

  10. Wendy Gabriel’s avatar


    I’ve watched that program too! In fact, I was talking to my Nana about the program and told her about Dr. Amens’ smell test (an early indicator of Alzheimers – if you have difficulty smelling the scent of strawberry, pineapple, lemon or the odor we put in natural gas). And she told me that my Papa couldn’t smell natural gas.

    Thanks for stopping by!


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