70: Loving Words

70: Loving Words

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Loving Words

Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.

~Adlai E. Stevenson

As my father napped on the couch, I sat down in his favorite chair and looked out the window. The American flag blew in the warm breeze of the summer afternoon from its post on the front porch railing. Smiling to myself, I thought of the many times Dad had gotten up from his chair that day in order to unfurl the flag after the breeze had wrapped it around its pole.

We had flown an American flag at home for as long as I could remember, and Dad was always a stickler on flag etiquette. Flags should be brought in at night, unless a light shone on them. They should be brought in out of the rain or high winds, although a mild breeze was okay. Even with his advancing Alzheimer’s disease, Dad made sure the flag flew unobstructed, no matter if it meant him getting up from his chair numerous times throughout the day.

I shifted my vision to the numerous flowers blooming throughout the front yard and willed myself to find the one that was causing my dad to fret. “That flower’s not right,” Dad had insisted for the second time in as many minutes as he pointed out the window earlier that day. “Which flower?” I asked. But Dad just pointed out the window, frowning. I had taken Dad outside, and we walked around the yard together, stopping to admire each blossom and bush. As nothing seemed amiss, we went back inside, only to have Dad point out the window moments later saying, “That flower’s not right.” I was frustrated with myself for not understanding what Dad meant.

Several months earlier, my husband, two daughters and I had moved into my father’s home, when it had been determined that it was no longer safe for him to remain at home unsupervised. Although he was still considered to be in the “early stages” of Alzheimer’s, each day brought new challenges for all of us to overcome. For example, while Dad could dress himself appropriately each morning, he could not find the words to identify a shirt or a pair of pants.

So, much like a new mother learns to identify with the developing language of her offspring, I began to learn to decipher my father’s decreasing communication skills. Earlier that spring, I had purchased six young chicks to raise in Dad’s back yard. As I placed a chick in his hand, Dad had gently stroked its soft down and listened in wonder as I described how it would soon grow to be a chicken, and we would enjoy fresh eggs at breakfast. Days later, when Dad had asked to see “the babies,” I knew he was referring to the chicks. I learned that when Dad said, “I’m going up top,” it meant he was going upstairs to his bedroom for the night. And I knew he wanted to watch baseball on television when he asked, “Are the Phillies working?”

My focus was brought back to the window as the breeze picked up the folds of the flag again. I hoped that whatever concerns Dad had with the flowers would be forgotten when he awoke from his nap. It saddened me to see the defeat in his eyes those times when he realized I couldn’t understand him.

Later that day, as we walked around the block enjoying the gorgeous weather, Dad seemed to be in better spirits. He most enjoyed looking at the historic homes in the neighborhood, and he stopped every so often to ask me to read out loud the dates etched on them. Our walk coming to an end, I headed into our driveway, but stopped as I realized Dad wasn’t keeping pace with me. I was curious as to why he had stopped in front of the new house that had been built just across the street from ours. Walking toward our new neighbors’ porch steps, Dad pointed and said, “That flower isn’t right.” Frowning and a bit hesitant, I was about to tell Dad that there weren’t any flowers on the porch. But then I watched with a smile as Dad walked confidently up the steps to the pillar where the flagpole was mounted. He gently and carefully unfurled our neighbors’ flag so that it, too, could wave freely in the breeze.

~Lori Lefferts Davidson

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