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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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