A reader’s perspective on family.
Last week Ann Etter gave us a phenomenal blog about family and community. Specifically the family that is found in the pages of our wonderful LesFic stories. Family that is sometime born into and sometimes made. If you didn’t have a chance to read it yet, check it out here.
It made me think though, about my own family and how I find hints of them in the pages of our stories. And because it is always on my mind because he is now my responsibility, it makes me think of my father. a huge part of my family. Growing up it was always just the four of us: my mom, my dad, my sister and me. We lived on the opposite coast of all our other family so the four of us were it when it came to making our memories and creating our family. In my freshman year of high school that family was broken up when my parents decided to divorce and was further disrupted when my sister got married. Through it all though, my dad was always the most important man in my life. Maybe because I had no interest in dating males or maybe because he was just my dad. All my life, though, he has been one of my first calls when I run into a problem or am trying to make a decision and a person who’s opinion I respect. At least it was until four years ago.
It’s inevitable this march toward death, that whole circle of life thing. It sucks but it is a reality and four years ago I was blindsided by this reality because four years ago I transitioned from being the daughter to the parent. My dad was no longer able to care for himself and the responsibility landed on me to provide the safety and security that he had always provided to me as my dad. It’s just how life works and it should be an honor. Don’t get me wrong I feel honored that I am able and willing to care for my dad, but my dad has Alzheimer’s and I resent this disease with a passion. So much so that sometimes it bleeds out onto my dad and I get those moments of wishing my dad was still the man who helped me make decisions, who would listen to me and understand the various components of the problem and offer a sensible possibility for a solution, who remembered our lives together.
I’m one of the lucky one’s though. This disease can drastically change the personalities of individuals but my dad is still a happy, funny guy who everyone loves. He wants to help as best he can and is confused at why and how his life has changed. And yet he is always willing to go out on an adventure with me when I stop by. He always wants to show me the pictures I’ve hung on his wall where he is holding me as a baby- the one he just found today! He always wants to tell me that he is doing really well and had a good day.
It’s a disease that is harder on the family than it is on the individual. Yes, my dad knows that things have changed and he can’t grasp the concept of why they are different. That is part of the disease. For me though, I’ve lost that amazing sounding board that I’ve depended on all my life and I’ve lost the details of our lives together through his eyes. It’s also a disease that presents itself in different ways and progresses at different speeds. For instance in Karis Walsh’s Improvisation, her character of Jan Carroll is starting the process of preparing her life to live with a father who is starting to show the signs of Alzheimer’s. I love how she reaches out to Tina Nelson to help her document her father’s history so that it is readily available to him. Something that he can return to and remind himself of. It definitely gave me some ideas for decorating my own father’s room.
In G. Benson’s Who’d Have Thought Hayden Perez’s mother is much further along in the illness to the point of not remembering family members now but having a very clear memory of when she was younger. Can you imagine what it would be like to remember so clearly life twenty years ago that it feels like the present? Then look around and see the changes that have happened- grown children you don’t remember having, a parent who has aged so much and just missing a large part of your life with no way to figure out what happened other than through other people’s memories? Luckily my dad hasn’t lost his present tense, but his memory of hitting golf balls of the planet mars are incredibly detailed. So much so that they have become a reality to him.
Right now it isn’t that advanced with my father. He isn’t living in a specific time of his life and on some days he can interact and express himself extremely well. Similar to what happened with Natalya Tsvetnenko’s father in Requiem for Immortals by Lee Winters. I absolutely loved that moment in the story. A point where she needed to be loved again and her dad was the one to give it to her. I miss those moments when I could ask my Dad’s thoughts and opinions about things happening in my life and be able to have him answer me with insight and knowledge. I miss it, but what I don’t need to miss is knowing that my dad loves me. So I still keep him up to date on what is happening in my life and as best I can I update him on my sister and her family’s lives as well. But I can no longer count on him as my go-to dad with all the answers. Now, he looks to me for those.
It’s wonderful to find these moments in our LesFic stories, because it provides yet another way to connect with the characters. Yet another way to see my family in our community. And though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I would love to hear what other LesFic stories include Alzheimer’s. Because for me, even though the topic isn’t necessarily a happy one, it is a part of our community, a part of our families and a part of our lives. So please share if you have other stories!
There are wonderful resources out there for people living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Check out the Alzheimer’s Association website (here) for more information regarding the disease, resources and for local support groups in your area.