75: My Ticket to Happiness

75: My Ticket to Happiness

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

My Ticket to Happiness

All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.

~Maya Angelou

When I was a young girl my dad called me “Ticket.” I don’t know how old I was when I asked him why he called me that, but I remember the answer. He told me that I was his “Ticket to Happiness.” That name made me feel special and wanted. It made me realize that my life had meaning, that I brought happiness to the most important guy in my life — my dad.

In his last years, my dad lived at a veteran’s hospital. The nurses took good care of him and my mom made countless trips to assure him that he was still loved by his bride. Unfortunately, it was during these last years of Dad’s life that I was going through a very difficult time of my own. I was a single mom with two little girls. I worked a second shift, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and found it hard to find the time and energy to make the long trip to see him as much as I would have liked. When I did go, I’d do as my mother did and pack a couple of cans of Pepsi on ice — but I also took something else.

Two remarkable things would happen when I visited my father during these times. The first was that when he saw me walk into the room, his face would light up with a smile that told me he knew who had just walked in. He couldn’t say my name or one sentence that made any sense, but there was no doubt that he knew I was his Ticket. Those smiles made me feel like his little girl again, even though I was almost thirty years old.

The other remarkable thing began one day when the nurse showed me a photo of a pumpkin my dad had drawn. My dad had been an incredible artist in his life, and despite the fact that Alzheimer’s had rendered him severely cognitively impaired, something incredible happened when you put a pencil in his hand: He still remembered how to draw with details, shading, and accurate perspective. After that, I would often bring a sketchpad and charcoal; a couple times, I was lucky enough to get him to do some drawing. During those times I think we both experienced some much-needed peace in our lives.

When those we love face the challenges of Alzheimer’s so much is stripped away from their lives… and ours, too. Memories are gone, as is the ability to do so many of the things that brought us joy. My father showed me that it’s possible for those with Alzheimer’s to experience some of what they love. Those things may often lie dormant within their hearts and minds, but if we’re lucky enough, they can break through and bring immeasurable joy. A smile of recognition. A picture of a pumpkin. Two things I had often taken for granted years before had now become priceless gifts passed from father to daughter.

For most of my life my dad told me that I was his “Ticket to Happiness,” but when I look back and think about all the incredible moments I had with my dad, even moments where the throes of Alzheimer’s could have shrouded my life in sorrow, it was he who was my Ticket to Happiness — and that happiness still fills my heart today.

~Amy L. Sayers

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