Father's Day: When dad has Alzheimer's

  • Article by: PATTI HAREID
  • Updated: June 11, 2013 - 2:54 AM
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Illustration: Father's Day.

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I’m going to visit my dad again this Father’s Day. I know how it will go. We will sit in relative silence, despite each of us giving full attention to the other. We will smile and nod, and when I recount some childhood memory, he will respond with a shrug of his shoulders or with his eyes searching mine for some clue as to what I’m talking about or what he should say.

Seldom do we have a conversation. His repertoire is limited to the occasional questions about whether I know my mother or what he should be doing. It’s not that he’s rude or disinterested or joking around. He simply can no longer connect. Alzheimer’s disease has made sure of that.

But still, we are lucky. Most residents of his memory unit are anxious, aggressive or actively trying to escape. My dad just smiles and thanks everyone who speaks to him or comes within view. When asked about my dad, I often reply that he’s the happiest guy in town. And he is.

He doesn’t agonize over the disease, as we are prone to do. He has no idea that he’s traded his Brooks Brothers suits for perpetually stained sweatshirts and ill-fitting pants that I’m sure don’t belong to him.

No, he knows neither where he is nor who he was — nothing, really, that happened before the last moment. So I have no sense that he remembers his life before the disease consumed him or that he grieves for that life. And that is a blessing.

His ever-bright blue eyes and endearing smile are enough for us now. It’s all he can give, and we lovingly accept that. But we remember his 63 Father’s Days, bask in a lifetime of good memories and take solace in the fact that the disease has done little to change his demeanor.

If anything, he is more calm and pleasant and, well, happier now. That’s unusual, I realize, but then my dad always did things his own way.

So happy Father’s Day, Dad. I have no expectations that you will know me or the cause for this celebration. But in the course of exchanging nods and smiles maybe we will connect, if only for moment, and I will find some sense of us that endures reflected in those expressive blue eyes — a Father’s Day gift for your daughter.

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Patti Hareid lives in  Albert Lea, Minn.

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