What a Difference a Year Makes.


Today as we prepared to visit my dad at The Inn (his term for the nursing home where he does his slow dance with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia), I casually mentioned to my daughters that we were going to “go visit Grandpa.”

Suddenly, my 7 year-old’s eyes flashed open wide and she asked excitedly, “Mom! What’s the date today?” I replied, “It’s October 20th.” Then she squealed with delight and raced back to her bedroom. Confused, I followed her and found her at her desk with a picture I had seen her working on the last week or so. I didn’t really know what it was but it looked like she was putting the finishing touches on it.

I asked her, “What ‘cha doing?” as I peeked over her shoulder. Before she responded, I saw her sign her name. Then she turned to me and opened her desk drawer. She produced a wrinkled yellow-lined piece of paper that held some familiar scribbled handwriting. As I looked closer, I saw it was my dad’s writing.

I watched as a wide grin crept upon her face.  “Mom!” she said enthusiastically, “Exactly ONE YEAR AGO TODAY, Grandpa wrote me THIS LETTER!” Her hand thrust forward at me and I took the paper. I saw the date, “10/20/11” at the top.

Sure enough, last year at this exact same time, my dad would often write and mail simple letters to my children from The Inn. He knew they got the biggest kick out of receiving mail and relished in hearing their reactions when they would receive them.

The letter from him to my daughter was brief, and said simply, “Dear Ruby, Lots of Love, From Grandpa.”

Then she showed me a letter she wanted to give to him in exchange, with a picture she drew. She put today’s date, “10/20/12” on the top and wanted to bring it along on our visit to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his effort.

It said simply, “Dear Grandpa, I love you sooo much. Love, Ruby”

She had kept his letter all this time. AND she had the patience and vision to wait for the anniversary – an entire year – from when my dad wrote it to write him back on the same date.

For a seven year-old, this was quite a feat, considering she cannot seem to locate the socks she wore yesterday.

She got up from her desk and excitedly brought it with her as we all piled into the car and headed toward The Inn. She had a smile on her face the entire car ride.

Our family has been coming to terms with a steadily and increasing period of decline with my dad. His happy, bright days are fewer and far between. The light is starting to fade from his eyes as his memory steadily slips away. For the most part he still knows us, those of us he sees regularly. But our new obstacle has to do with his occasionally refusing to eat or even drink. He is gradually losing weight and now requires cues and assistance with eating. As often is the case with people with dementia, sometimes they do not even realize they are hungry. And the simple reflex of swallowing is growing more and more difficult. Swallowing his pills can be a huge challenge.

It’s a “new normal.” And we know the writing is on the wall.

I just wish we could erase it.

Today, my dad was certainly not at his best. He spent his entire day in bed, not wanting to eat or drink much. When we came into his room, he was lying in bed and couldn’t keep his eyes open. He barely greeted us.

My daughter walked into her grandfather’s room with her drawing clutched firmly in her hand. She took one look at him and knew instantly that he would not understand what she had done. So without saying a word, she simply turned and hung it up on his bulletin board on his wall. I watched her step back and admire it, pleased with herself.

I have never felt so proud of my little girl. I whispered to her, “I think Grandpa is going to be so excited when he sees that later.”

She looked at me and smiled.

After a bit of time, we turned and left, promising to see him tomorrow.

Anniversaries are often times of celebration. But they can also be poignant, sad times, too. There was sadness in the room today when my dad wasn’t able to be in the moment to celebrate an important anniversary in the eyes of a child. But truth be told, all that was overshadowed by the excitement and thoughtfulness of a seven-year-old girl who just wanted to do something special for her Grandpa, even if he couldn’t really understand it.

I dropped off my girls at home along with my husband and then headed back to The Inn at dinnertime by myself. I just wanted to be with my dad. He was out of bed, sitting at a table in the dining area, sleeping in his wheelchair, an uneaten sandwich and pickle spear staring at him from his plate.

He didn’t want to talk much, so I just held his hand. I told him that I loved him and kissed him on the cheek. He replied politely, yet absently, “Thank you, darling.”

Tomorrow is another day. I’m hoping it’s a much better day than today was. There is certainly an air of unpredictability lately so you just never know what you might get.

But it’s going to be okay.

This is just my Dad’s story. And, if I think about it,  I guess, it’s my story, too.

I love you, Dad.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl
    Oct 21, 2012 @ 02:46:22

    So bittersweet — Ruby is amazing and wise beyond her years. And you, as always, are right there, giving your dad just what he needs … unconditional love. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  2. Raina
    Oct 21, 2012 @ 10:46:45

    Teresa, I can not express in words how much your stories, especially this one touches me. I read this to Todd and Leah and we are moved with emotion. Todd and I can relate to this time in your life, while Leah is expressing the thoughts your daughters must be having. Your blog is a great way to open up discussion and touch upon the realities of life. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt stories.

    Reply

  3. Linda Kireta
    Oct 21, 2012 @ 15:59:25

    Oh Teresa it was wonderfull what your daughter did for her Grandpa. Brought tears to my eyes. Know that in his heart he still knows and loves all of you. God Bless all of you.

    Reply

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