48. Where’s Dad?

48. Where’s Dad?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Where’s Dad?

There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.

~Author Unknown

“Did you borrow my leaf blower?” Pause. My husband, Will, clenched the portable phone in his hand while pacing back and forth in the living room. “You know, the one I keep in the garage.” He sounded exasperated.

Will was talking to our son, Matt, who lived a few blocks away. I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes and not paying much attention until the heat in the one-sided conversation escalated. Of course, I couldn’t hear Matt’s responses, but I had participated in the bargaining process last Tuesday when Matt asked to borrow the leaf blower. Warning bells went off in my head. The same warning bells that had jangled in my ears over the last few months. Lately though, they were getting louder.

“Irresponsible kid!” Will shoved the phone back into its holder and turned to me. “Now if Matt had joined the Army like I expected him to, this never would have happened. He’d have learned some discipline, some respect for other people’s property.” In recent months, this recurring theme popped up whenever Matt somehow failed to meet my husband’s expectations.

Words deserted me. At thirty, our son was hardly a “kid,” but my husband seemed to be regressing into one himself. Will quickly forgot the incident and moved on to his daily routine. However, later in the day when Matt stopped by to return the leaf blower, facing the issue became important — if only to clear the air.

“Jeez, Mom! It’s like we never had a conversation about borrowing the damn leaf blower. You know he agreed to let me use it. What’s going on with Dad?”

What indeed? The hurt look in Matt’s eyes pained me. Truth time. As much as I’ve tried to avoid it, I couldn’t any longer. Will, thankfully, had left for the office, something he did less frequently of late. He’s a real estate broker and sets his own hours. It was just the two of us, my son and I, looking at an uncertain future. A future that we needed to discuss.

“It’s way past time we talked about this, Matt. Blame me for turning a blind eye to the situation, if you want. I think your father needs professional help.”

All the color drained from Matt’s face. “You know it too?”

“Afraid so.” All along, I’d been trying to shield my family from the truth but they were way ahead of me. “Now, what are we going to do to help Dad?”

Will and I had been going about finding answers in a piecemeal fashion. He’d suffered a bout of depression for several months over the decline in the real estate market. Depression wasn’t new to him. Over our thirty-year marriage, this was his third go-round with it. When counseling and prescription drugs failed to turn him around in a reasonable amount of time, my suspicions grew. As time passed and his behavior became more and more erratic, the situation could no longer be ignored. The catalyst that brought me to my senses turned out to be Will’s lapse of memory about agreeing to lend the leaf blower and his escalating anger with Matt over the incident.

My decision to conceal the truth from family and friends played a huge role in our evolving crisis. I hadn’t wanted to discuss my worries with “outsiders” who would in all likelihood make judgments, or worse, shun us. At least, that is what I believed. We socialized less, limited our activities and generally kept a low profile. Withdrawing from the world limited my options.

Facing the seriousness of the situation was the first step in this long journey. What would we do? Doctors came to mind. Unfortunately, not many of them had a good grasp of what we were up against. They hadn’t witnessed the changes in behavior that turned the man I loved into, if not a stranger, then almost certainly an alien presence. At first, the changes were so subtle that I hardly noticed, or maybe was trying to ignore. Even so, that ugly word — Alzheimer’s — painted a scary picture. Then I watched as the changes wormed their way into an otherwise well-ordered life.

Knowing I wasn’t alone helped. But there was fear, doubt and hopelessness until we were ready to reach out and find solutions. My path led me to our local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. It was amazing how much lighter the burden felt when it was shared. At an Alzheimer’s workshop, the lady sitting next to me described her husband’s symptoms with such dignity, compassion and humor that I knew that my world wasn’t coming to an end — just changing.

~Lizbeth Tarpy

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