28: It’s Sunday the 23rd

28: It’s Sunday the 23rd

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

It’s Sunday the 23rd

When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.

~Author Unknown

Dad’s face lit up as he opened the front door. “Jeri! Glenda! My girls! I’m so glad to see you.” He ushered us inside. “It’s Sunday the 23rd. There are clouds with fog and a chance of rain.”

As always, the sound of The Weather Channel in the background greeted us as we entered the house. Starting every conversation with the date and weather forecast was Dad’s way of showing us that he was aware of his surroundings. I often find myself waiting for him to announce the name of the current president and year, a result of too many memory tests and too many doctor’s visits. All to prove he is alert and living in the present and that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was wrong.

First came the constant drone of The Weather Channel. Next, small spiral notebooks that he tucked in his shirt pocket. Dad was constantly taking notes. More than a journal, it was a record of his day, his lifeline. What he did and when, who called, when they called, which visitors showed up, what they said, and what he said. Things he wanted to tell us, things he wanted to do. Notes he was constantly referring to throughout the day.

“I need help.” With those words, he took the first of many steps down the slippery slope of Alzheimer’s. He handed over his checkbook. “The numbers make no sense.” He confessed that he had been trying to reconcile the bank statement for more than six hours and it was still off. Giving up control was so hard for my father. As a career Navy man, being in command was second nature. For the first time I saw tears in my father’s eyes.

Once he was late coming home from his afternoon walk. A neighbor found him standing in the street, looking bewildered. He told her he had been looking for his house, but it was lost.

I don’t remember the exact day I became the parent. One day I was coming to Dad for advice and information: “What’s the recipe for Granny’s sure-fire cough syrup?” I think it contained a slug of Jack Daniel’s sipping whiskey. “How old was I when I broke my arm? How deep do you plant the tomatoes? Is it too late to trim the rose bush? Can you fix my bike?”

Then suddenly I was the one with the answers.

“It’s time to replace the stove. The best buy is an electric one.” No reason to tell him I was afraid the flames of the old gas stove would start a fire, or to mention the time gas filled the kitchen when the pilot light went out.

“The car’s broken and we can’t afford to fix it,” I lied as I took away his keys. A ticket for driving too slowly on the highway, getting lost coming home from the corner store, backing into the mailbox; these things forced me to take away his independence. Being the parent meant making the tough decisions. It was a role no adult child should have to take on.

But not today. Sunday the 23rd was a good day for a visit. Dad was alert, happy, and content that his daughters were home.

As we settled on the couch, he suddenly stood up and went to his room. My sister and I exchanged questioning glances

Just as I was about to go looking for him, he returned with a smile. “How’s your writing coming along? How’s Larry’s mother? Is Scott still driving a truck? Did you get a new puppy? Still liking your job at the library?” I was bombarded with questions about my family and pets.

Once again he disappeared, only to reappear in a few minutes. This time it was my sister’s turn to be questioned. She beamed as Dad asked about her husband and kids by name, mentioning details about their jobs and hobbies.

My curiosity got the best of me and I, too, made the trip down the hallway. What I found in my father’s bedroom was astounding.

On the wall, above his desk, was a clothesline. On this line hung the important people in his life. There was a picture of me, my sister, brothers, relatives, next door neighbors, even the post lady. I couldn’t even guess how he got the pictures, but there we were, looking like suspects in a police lineup.

Under each picture were our rap sheets, an index card with our names along with the names of our spouses, children, and grandchildren. Most touching were the lists of interests and dreams under each name. My father had come up with a unique way of holding onto his fading memories, a visual reminder of those he knew, loved, and interacted with.

I couldn’t contain my admiration for him. He was fighting so hard to keep his world intact. He wasn’t going to let his family slip away without fighting back.

I once asked my father what he considered his life’s greatest achievements. “My family,” he answered.

While Alzheimer’s has robbed my father of many things, it has not robbed him of the love of his family and friends.

As my sister and I left that Sunday the 23rd, I realized that for a few hours, the fog had been chased away. The rain had not come. Dad knew our names.

~Jeri McBryde

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