Saturday, December 26, 2009

Into the fog

Christmas 2009, Virginia

In the years my Dad's had Alzheimer's the deterioration has been mostly rapid. But it seemed that for a year or two there he had achieved -- or maybe descended into -- a sort of stasis. A state you would by no means call fortunate or happy, but tolerable, I suppose. Tolerable for us, that is.

He had shed the major anxiety that plagued him as his mind started slipping away and reached a kind of contentment. The kind that comes from not really knowing how bad things are. So he seemed happy, and though it wasn't clear he recognized us per se, he seemed to know we were people he was familiar with. People who belonged. And through his expressions and limited verbiage it seemed clear it made him happy to have us around.

There is still that, but he is now farther away. He doesn't verbalize as much as he used to -- which wasn't much to begin with. A few words and some things we couldn't recognize as words.

What kind of shocked me this time around though is the physical deterioration. All through this he's been physically strong and active. Walking every day, miles and miles. And fast -- so much so that it was hard to keep up with him sometimes. Even as he was losing his mental (and some physical) faculties, he remained vigorous.

But now he has trouble getting out up from a chair by himself. And he needs help eating. Stairs are tough, too and, of course, the long walks are long gone.

It's ridiculous that I'm surprised by this. It was just a matter of time. But even with all the deterioration we've witnessed I guess it's human nature to, on one hand, accept the hand that's dealt and adjust accordingly, while also stubbornly clinging to that hand, assuming it won't change, that there aren't worse hands awaiting you from the bottom of the deck.

So now I'm thinking of what's to come -- the nightmares ahead. How long will he be able to get around the house before needing a wheelchair? What if the peace that he's had turns to anger or violence?

Anyway, in spite of it all, it's good to be here. And I'm glad I opted for an extra day. It's not much, but I've been feeling tremendous guilt all year long for not coming out here. Just horrible guilt -- the kind that grabs you suddenly from inside and makes you wince. And I've felt it every single day -- sometimes many times a day.

I've always felt it's easier to do the hard things than to deal with the anxiety or guilt from avoiding them, and I've tried to live that way. So in the new year I have to do a better job of getting myself out here.

That will be my one resolution.

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