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Echoes From the Past

dickmaryfountain - Version 2Over the years I’ve come to accept that the past echoes more loudly during certain months. October is such a month for me. It starts with two anniversaries –– my wedding anniversary and the anniversary of the sudden death of our first German Shepherd, Vulcan… both on October 1st. It is the month that little Atlas joined our family, and healed my heart after we lost Vulcan. It is the month when my father endured the final, cruel days of Alzheimer’s, ultimately passing away on the 30th.

Each of those anniversaries carries with it a collection of days before and after, which is perhaps an overly obvious statement. But it actually wasn’t until a few years after my father’s death that I realized the heaviness that seemed to fill me from the 20th of October onwards was connected to those echoes. Once I understood that, and acknowledged it, I could deal with the weight more effectively. But each year I still need to remind myself.

This year is no different. You see these were the days in 1994 during which the grip of Alzheimer’s finally turned my father into a man we could barely recognize. In many ways we had been lucky –– my father’s personality had not changed markedly until that point despite all the other ravages of the disease. But in the final couple of weeks he was angry, aggressive, and heart-breakingly agonized.

Nineteen years later I can still see my father dragging himself along the floor in my parents’ bedroom –– too weak to stand up, but striking out with unbelievable strength when anyone tried to help him. It had become the evening pattern.

Now, instead of allowing that memory to take hold when it finds me, I consciously bring forth another one… one of the most important from that time. It’s best captured in this excerpt from Chapter 25 of Standing Tall: A Daughter’s Gift:

It was on one of these nights that my father would say his last lucid words. After the hours of pacing and then sliding along the floor, after the late night supper of rolled oats and the struggle with the medication, my mother, Pat and I led an exhausted man to his bed. He’d become gentler than we’d seen him in days. Cooperative almost. We helped him sit, raised his legs to ease them onto the mattress, fixed his pillows behind his head. My mother leaned over and brought the bed covers up to tuck under his chin. His eyes were already closed, but before she was able to speak her usual “Good Night and God Bless”, he opened them. Bright and clear they were as he smiled my father’s smile and looked into her eyes, aware and awake. “I love you,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and immediately slept.

My mother maintain(ed) she would never have believed what she had heard or seen that night if we hadn’t been there to tell her it was so. Indeed, we would not have believed what we had heard or seen if it hadn’t been for the fact that we all shared exactly the same memory…

There’s no doubt that dark echoes from the past can be very powerful and very persistent. Once they’re recognized and acknowledged, though, it’s easier to withstand them… and to focus on the moments of light that are the most important.

Like the magical one in late October, when my father somehow found the awareness to tell my mother he loved her… one final time.