From the Journals –– After The Fact
A question I’ve been asked from time to time is whether or not writing helped me cope while my father was ill. My answer usually surprises people, because the reality is I didn’t do a great deal of my own writing during those years. My words were mainly for others –– news releases, speeches, articles, position papers, brochures, advertisements, and so on. On one occasion, shortly before his death, I shared something of his illness in an editorial. But that was about it. Even if I’d had any idea that one day I would write his story, I don’t think I could have written about the experiences while living them.
This proved to be something of a stumbling block when I sat down to write Chapter 21 in A Daughter’s Gift, and at one point I wondered if I’d actually be able to finish the book. I lay awake night after night trying to solve them problem, until I realized I should just ask my father how to tie all the remaining pieces together when I had no written record to draw upon. Here’s how I recorded what happened:
“Dad,” I mentally asked, late one night as I lay next to Peter, struggling to remain still so that I would not disturb him, “what can I do? How do I continue? How do I tie all the remaining pieces together?”
I’ve read that our loved ones communicate with us, help us find the answers we need if we just remain quiet and attentive, if we allow ourselves to hear them. I’ve seen my father in stargazer lilies; I’ve woken late at night to feel his presence so strongly that I turn to the foot of my bed to smile at him, only to see nothing but the shadow of the night; I’ve asked him to help me find a way to lift a particularly heavy burden of sadness; I’ve felt his presence on a long and lonely drive. And on that particular night… I found an answer. “Just write your journal now…”
And so I did –– in the days that followed I sat at the keyboard and recorded events in after-the-fact journal entries. Not all of them made it to A Daughter’s Gift… but here are two that did, chosen during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month because they remind me of things to hold on to, like names and smiles and songs, and hugs filled with trust and love.
My mother found him sitting on the couch, a huge smile on his face. She smiled back, wondering what had brought such joy to a face so often serious. I’m Dick, he said, Dick Barron. Don’t you always know who you are, she asked. No, he answered, I don’t. Then I understand exactly why you’re smiling.
Certain small things remain unchanged. The glass case in the left shirt pocket. The wallet in the back pants pocket. But he wears turtlenecks under his long sleeve shirts now, because he is cold even when the temperatures are warm. A friend of my mother’s comes to the house to cut his hair, because he can no longer go out. Sometimes he wears cardigans, because they keep him warm and he no longer remembers that he never liked them. His eyes are watery and wide. He stares without seeing at pictures on the TV screen, no longer able to name the actors and actresses, the hockey teams or players, as he had once so easily done. He moves the food from his plate to his mouth with a robotic rhythm. And when you look at the books and magazines he’s reading, you notice he’s holding them upside down.
But his foot still taps to the rhythm of the music on a favorite tape.
And his hugs are full of trust and love.