74: A Bright Spot in Darkness

74: A Bright Spot in Darkness

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

A Bright Spot in Darkness

Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.

~George Eliot

It was a Walmart shopping trip I won’t forget, because the list was items for my father, who had just been admitted to the long-term care center in our small southern Illinois town. A year earlier, Mom and I had been told that Daddy was in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Two months later, he started to rapidly deteriorate, not just mentally, but also in his mobility. We could see he wanted to stand and walk but his brain couldn’t transmit the message to his legs.

My mother, who was ill through much of their marriage, struggled to care for Daddy in their home. Caregivers helped for part of each day, and neighbors checked on my parents as needed. But it became increasingly clear that Daddy was reaching the point where he needed 24/7 professional care. So that day we helped Daddy into the car for his trip to the care center and now I was tearing up as I looked for things to make him comfortable.

Suddenly an idea popped into my head, sending me scurrying to the toy aisle. And there it was. The perfect gift for Daddy. The cutest, softest, cuddliest, stuffed black-and-white dog. What a perfect companion for Daddy to have by his side. He loved his dogs and would miss them. So I hoped this stuffed one would help.

Talk about an understatement! My dad’s face lit up when I gave him his new companion and he promptly named him Artie after a good friend. It didn’t take long before Artie was the talk of the care center.

Resting comfortably on Daddy’s lap, Artie went almost everywhere with Daddy in his wheelchair. They attended church services and other activities. Artie would keep watch at Daddy’s bedside when he slept, sometimes sitting by him and other times snuggled under the covers in Daddy’s arms.

Because Daddy always wore his Coast Guard cap, my friend Sheryl surprised him on his birthday with a matching cap for Artie. He wore it all the time.

Of course, the dapper pooch also got in trouble. One day, I was in the elevator with Daddy, Artie, and one of the nurse’s aides, Lisa. The first thing Lisa said was, “Artie bit me today.” I looked at Daddy and asked him if that were true. He smiled as he helped Artie “attack” Lisa’s arm again.

Another time I ran into the same trio and Lisa told me, “Artie wet the bed this morning.” Daddy grinned and whispered to Artie that it was okay.

Daddy still loved to eat, especially snacks, which he would always share with Artie. One could see by all the cookie crumb stains on Artie’s mouth.

During a celebration of “Senior Citizen Month” the care center hired a professional photographer to shoot portraits of residents and families. Daddy, Mom, and I lined up, and on Daddy’s lap sat “super model” Artie. That simple stuffed pooch brought so many smiles to our faces as we watched Daddy diminish, disappearing deeper into the disease. What could have been sad, painful visits were brightened by Daddy’s smile at Artie’s antics.

Nine months after Daddy entered the care center, he passed away. Artie was in bed with him. And he was still sitting guard when I walked into the room to tell Daddy goodbye before the hearse took him away. I left the care center that day with Artie in my arms.

And there he was at the funeral, a dapper little dog wearing a Coast Guard cap, sitting on a white stool, guarding Daddy’s casket.

Artie now sits on a shelf in my home next to many of Daddy’s WWII things, under a painting of his farm. I remember all the joy Artie brought Daddy, Mom, and me in the midst of Daddy’s battle with Alzheimer’s. And I thank God for nudging me that day in the store to buy a stuffed dog, for there is no question about it — Artie was a bright light for us and for my father during the darkness of Alzheimer’s.

~Linda Veath Cox

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