Find The Memories
For as long as I can remember, my father called me ‘duck’. When he stopped calling me that… stopped calling me anything, really… I knew he no longer recognized me as his daughter. He perceived me as someone familiar and safe for quite some time. Indeed, in the final months I was one of the few people who could be close to him when his paranoia was particularly strong and we paced through his house, trying to avoid enemies he could see but I could not.
However, I wasn’t ‘duck’.
There’s a unique kind of loneliness that comes from being forgotten. There’s an incomparable sense of helplessness when you watch the history you’ve shared with someone being erased from that person’s memory and you along with it. And if you’re like I was, there are also periods of intense anger.
As I tried to come to terms with my father’s deterioration, I found much of my helplessness and frustration was rooted in single question that haunted me. Why bother, I wondered. Why bother to try so hard to live a good life, do the best you can for your family, be thoughtful and giving, wise and loving, and the best father a daughter could ever hope for, when it can all be taken from you? Erased from your memory as if it never was…
I don’t know if, during that period, I fully comprehended that the more my father lost, the more protective I became of my memories of our shared experiences — the moments, hours, days and nights that defined our relationship and had a tremendous impact on the person I had become. My mother used to say she couldn’t remember the man my father had been before he was ill. She could only remember the ‘sick Dick’. I could remember him well, perhaps more vividly than I would have had he been fully present before me. And I would say to her that we had to remember him… that the disease could not be allowed to erase his very existence.
I ultimately found an answer to my question. I came to the very obvious realization that ‘we’ were the reason. While my father couldn’t remember all that he had done for and with us… for me… for Peter… for Kenneth… we could remember it. And so I would live my life accordingly. I would honour and protect his story, our story, the memories. I would live my life so that he would be proud to call me daughter.
Now, when I speak to someone who’s trying to deal with the loss of a loved one to Alzheimer’s, I remind him or her, as the Alzheimer’s Society is doing during Awareness Month, that there is still much to hold on to. I tell them about just some of the memories I protect –– poached eggs on toast for breakfast.… driving lessons in the Land Rover… the sound of laughter from an Abbott and Costello movie… ham sandwiches and apple pie… birthday suppers… boots stuck in bogs… blueberries in buckets… beachcombing at Bellevue… and so many more.
I tell them… Find your own memories.Treasure them, protect them, hold on to them.
For the both of you.