Alzheimer's Daughter

The Story

Alzheimer’s Daughter introduces the reader to my healthy parents, Ed and Ibby, years before their diagnosis, then recounts painful details as our roles reversed and I became my parents’ parent.

Their disease started as translucent, confused thoughts and ended in a locked memory care unit after a near decade of descent into the opaque world of Alzheimer's.

I began writing Alzheimer’s Daughter one week after my mother's death––when I was stunned, realizing Dad had no memory of her or their 66-year marriage.

I write to pay tribute to the undying spirit at Ed and Ibby's core, and with the hope that the story of their parallel decline might be helpful to others.

Chapter 17- Dad's Life Alone

* * *
April 30, 1944
My Dearest Wife,
Darling the radio is playing sweet music and it makes me miss you like the devil. Darling, I’m so much in love with you. Dear, you tell me that you bought a new perfume and dusting powder? I’m glad. Gee, the letter you spritzed smells good. I love you and nothing will ever change that.
I’m lonesome, darling.
 Forever and ever your loving husband,
P.S. Gee, you look sweet in the picture you sent. You’re always sweet to me.
* * *

            After Mom died, Dad’s life without her became our primary focus. Annette returned two weeks later so we could monitor Dad closely. He didn’t grieve consciously and outwardly because he couldn’t remember Mom or their marriage. Was the shock of her death and being alone temporarily blocked or would he remain oblivious to the fact that he’d been married for sixty-six years to his Ibby and she was gone?
We’d always referred to Mom and Dad, Ed and Ibby, the two names combined, never thinking of one without the other. Dad’s life alone was a drastic change.
Annette continued to visit about every six weeks. I saw Dad on Saturdays and sometimes after work.
Every time I visited Dad, I asked staff and aides how he was doing. Aides believed overall he was fading due to loneliness, but he didn’t realize whom he was missing. We talked about his slow decline, based upon a loss he was unable to understand, verbalize, or pinpoint––the loss of Ibby.
Dad loved to be hugged when I came to visit. One time he said, “I’m so glad you’re here, because nobody hugs me anymore.” He would wiggle his back whenever I rubbed my hand across it, like a dog might twitch or wag his tail when petted. He and Mom had been physically close, right up to the time of her death. Often, when I’d come to visit, while Mom was still living, I’d find them cuddled up––Mom’s back nested against Dad’s chest––in one twin bed napping.

For the most part, however, Dad remained happy and gracious. It was as if he was on autopilot. This was the way he had always faced life. Nearly every week, I’d hear him repeat the words he and Mom had often said together: “I’m so happy.” “I’ve been so lucky.”  “This is a wonderful place.” Frequently he used the pronoun “we” when reciting this mantra, just out of sixty-six years of habit.

During an October visit, Annette and I went directly from the airport to see Dad. He was excited to see us. He said, “What do you want to do?” We knew it was a good day because of his energetic reaction to us. We asked him if he’d like to go out to dinner. He was eager.
As we were getting him ready to leave, Annette and I were doing a couple of things around the room, tidying up and organizing a bit. He started to say, “You are my..., You are my…, You are my…,” and he searched for a word he wanted to use. Annette and I were doing little tasks as we listened for what word he was going to fill in the missing blank. We wondered if he knew we were his daughters. Could he retrieve the word ‘daughters?’ Was he tempted to say the word daughters? Perhaps he wasn’t sure if we were his daughters or his aides. So many scenarios ran through our minds during those split seconds. Finally, he completed the thought by saying, “You are my special people.” Those words ‘special people’ would have worked in either situation. I don’t know if his thought process could have been that complex. The bottom line was, he knew we were doing something nice for him.
That night as we ate dinner, he relished every morsel. Observers could have perceived him a normal elderly gentleman. However, there were many silences in our conversation. He repeated questions such as, “How are you?” and “How’s your family?” Even though he didn’t know who we were, our relationship to him, or who the people were in our families.
The next day there was a downward turn in his clarity and demeanor. When Annette and I arrived, he was sitting in a chair in the common room. In a bewildered voice he said, “I just bought gas.” He gestured to his walker, as though he was carrying the gas within the walker. Then he continued, “But, I can’t find my car. Can you help me find my car?” He continued to repeat and ruminate in agitated confusion, obsessing on thoughts of the car and the gas for about fifteen minutes, even though we tried to change the subject. He finally picked himself up out of his negative thought process and turned it around by saying, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t let these things worry me.”
On the final day of that visit, Annette and I spent about half an hour sitting with Dad outside the locked unit, by a fireplace. Conversation was slow––much of the time was spent in silence. We were just content to breathe the same air. When the time came for Annette to say her goodbyes, we returned Dad to the locked unit, and I stepped about ten feet away to give Dad and Annette some privacy. Dad looked at me and caught my attention by saying, “Hey, hey.” Then motioned toward Annette, saying to me, “Have you met my daughter?” This jarred both Annette and me. We realized he was connected to Annette, because he called her his daughter––however, he had completely drifted away from his recognition of me. He talked to me as though I was a stranger, politely introducing me to his daughter.
During this October trip, Annette witnessed first-hand Dad’s unpredictable shift from relative clarity to total obscurity––things I’d tried to describe to her by phone.
Leaving, walking through the locked doors, arms linked, Annette and I shook our heads, swallowing hard to swallow our tears. There were just no words to explain how lost Dad was...