I’d go home respite from a tumultuous divorce happening in my own family, only to hear complaints and worries from my mother regarding my father’s health. He was losing things, he was unable to help with the household through running errands or communicating without losing his train of thought, he was forgetful, he left messes on his desk, he fell asleep at the dining room table. To each, I had an answer which I thought was objective, and gradually became defensive of my Dad. It showed more respect to the most important man in my life to have patience, I reasoned, and in such manner, it came out as defiant of my mother’s nagging. Defensive and defiant, a path of self-destruction, so far as being easily dismissed. No matter how strong the line was drawn between my feeling, the same patience and tolerance I gave to my Dad was somehow lost on my mother. “Dad’s doing okay, Mom, you’re just so busy these days”, said in answer to my mother’s insistence that she couldn’t manage what was happening. Having my sisters dismiss my position did not help. They had always been my mother’s daughters, while I was indeed my father’s daughter, and in my eyes he could do no wrong.
The conflict boundaries were drawn by the nature of the beast, that being Alzheimer’s. In view of the circumstances, I could understand why my Dad lost the car. He would not only be distracted far too easily, but the effect was multiplied by the impatience he would face within himself, the numerous questions that would be asked (“now think back, where did you leave it”, when he didn’t even know he’d left it anywhere), and the exasperation that he must have, at many points, overheard in my mother’s voice in discussing a particular incident. Why else, I reasoned, was he getting worse. There were worse things then forgetfulness, be it forgetting to shower or the location of a car. There was, for example, total loss of a family unit, a situation which I was battling. If there was a solution to remodeling a family to match a permanent loss, why not face the loss of memory with parallel adjustments. Eventually, I’d have to come to grips with the fact that Alzheimer’s could have Dad in a debilitating grip, unable to see a way out, but not at that point. That moment was reserved for his death, the first time he mistook me for my sister.
Everyone sees things differently, family as well as a person suffering with Alzheimer’s. The disease is progressive, so that one both lives with it and dies from it. The focus on life or death depends on the perspective. Tolerance, not condescension, is the key to understanding and adjusting life to accommodate the disease. The lines were drawn; the dilemma I faced when knowing what to say, what to do in an every growing tense situation. The pinnacle came when a decision was made first to sell the family home, moving into a flat, then to move to California, where my sister suddenly acquired a home rental. All this happened in the space of a year, all for the sake of improving the home situation, yet every change debilitated Dad further, as often happens with Alzheimer’s. The drastic changes in lifestyle meant the disease took hold even more, lending justification to the move. I felt it was so wrong, and I sympathized with my father, who was as helpless as I was in controlling what was happening, engineered by my mother and sisters. Under the guise of telling Dad it was only for the winter, my parents moved to California, near my sister’s. Even when overcome with the full extant of Alzheimer’s, he saw himself as wanting to return to Erie, to live near friends in the town where he’d worked and loved, and the only difference between his dreams and mine were that while he entered, in his reality, more and more the world of Alzheimer’s, my dreams required I sleep.