Happy Holidays and a wonderful, glorious Happy New Year!!! May love fill your hearts, great health shield your body and may you be showered with wealth and prosperity in all the areas of your life.
It has been a long time since I updated this blog. I feel far more comfortable writing now. This past year has been a very bittersweet journey with my father. I made the choice to spend as much available time with him as possible and it was one of the best decisions I could have made.
I am thankful to have a platform to share my experience and my father’s experience with you. Not too long ago I had the gifted opportunity to join an amazing publication AND Magazine.
AND Magazine invited me to become a contributing writer. I feel incredibly honored to have written an article about Alzheimer’s called simply Alzheimer’s – A Spiritual Leader Abandons the Spirit and to have it presented next to one of the greatest minds of our generation, Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs’s mind changed our lives and he will live with us forever. He
became a part of our life and a part of our family, we will miss him dearly. He is a testament to the power, the incredible magnificence of the mind.
Steve Jobs was taken from us far too soon by cancer. Alzheimer’s is taking our family and loved ones very slowly, but also too soon. Cancer and Alzheimer’s must be eradicated.
The spirit of Steve Jobs and the spirit locked inside an Alzheimer’s patient continues, let us not forget either and cure both.
The art of the game of chess is one of patience. It is one my father has practiced his entire adult life. In his heart he knows that although the clock is ticking, the move will come, it must, the time is on the Phantom’s side.
I arrive at my father’s house and since I was running late my mom had already left. Dad greeted me with a very warm hello, it had been a long time since we spent any time alone with each other. Mom was usually there, so this was going to be a very unique day for both of us.
What was so interesting about his welcome was that he was happy for me to be there. Dad enjoyed his time alone to read his books, listen to his music or play his chess, so my mother’s monthly visits to Grandma meant that he had his space. I completely understood, because I too enjoy those moments when the house was all to myself, but not today, today he was warm and welcoming.
Dad waited for me to have breakfast and since I had not eaten I decided to make some eggs. Nothing special. Over breakfast I shared with him my trip to Germany. My father traveled through books and I traveled to many places he had read about over the years. It was always wonderful to share with him my personal experiences and we would sometimes match what he read or an image in a book with my actual experiences. So of course I came back with hundreds of images, connected my camera to the television and together we traveled back to Germany and discussed the historical significance of the art work I had photographed, the museums I had visited and the countryside I had strolled along. I shared with him my joy of being at Bach’s birth place and we discussed his music. I loved the conversations my father and I had over the years about art, history and politics. They were always intelligent, lively and intellectually stimulating. He taught me how to listen, learn, and debate with respect. My father was an amazingly educated man, but he was never, ever condescending. I always admired that about him and he taught me how to have a voice, to also debate and to be respectful.
The day flowed comfortably and then it must have been about one or two in the afternoon when he began to change. He asked me where my mom was and I reminded him that mom went shopping. Then he did the strangest thing that really took me aback. He said he was going to the bathroom so I began to clean up and think about how we should spend the rest of the day. It seemed like an awfully long time had passed.
Slowly the Knight begins to move, king knight 1 to king bishop 3, smack the clock shifts sides.
When I went to check on him he was standing in the middle of the hallway staring at the bathroom. The door was ajar, which is how I had left it earlier. I asked him what was wrong and all this time he thought someone was in the bathroom, although no one else was in the apartment.
My heart dropped as I walked by him and very gently opened the door and showed him that no one was there and that no one else was here at home. He was very surprised and I had never seen him so frightened. I had always known my father to be such a strong and independent man, he never showed me fear.
When he returned I had to again remind him that mom was shopping and at Grandma’s house, but it was very important that he speak with her and find out when she would be home. I called mom and after they spoke he was much better. He actually came back. This was further evidence of how serious this was and I had absolutely no experience to draw from , just my instincts and I began to fear the worst. Did he have a stroke, was it his medication? So many things began to flow through my mind.
His move is as subtle as the the opening. This will be a very slow, arduous game and every move he makes will determine if this will be a tournament or a single chance meeting. He smacks his palm on the button of the chess clock, time is on the side of the Phantom.
Friday, January 2, 2009, I remember thinking as I was on my way to my parent’s home the numerous conversations I had with my mother over the past few months. She mentioned several times that my father was forgetting things. She was alarmed when he left his credit card at the store, the time he forgot to pick up an item he purposely went out to purchase and he was misplacing things in the house.
At the time I did not think anything of it, I had absolutely no experience with memory loss, and heck, I forgot things here and there. Who hasn’t experienced purposefully walking into a room and standing there dumbfounded, looking around as you try to remember why you came into the room in the first place. But now, as I reflect over the last few months, I realize that there were other signs, bigger signs, behavior that was just not in my father’s character.
In October of 2008, my mom and I went shopping. It was one of those Mother, Daughter days that we enjoyed sharing with each other. Over the years I have gotten much closer with my mom and she was not just my mom, but my friend. Dad always knew that Mom and I would return home well into the evening. Since I was always busy with work, months would go by before we could schedule an outing, so we always tried to cram a lot into one day. It was usually about nine or ten o’clock at night when we entered my mom’s house and Dad was always fast asleep, but not this day. Dad called, he never called, worried sick. Where were we? Were we alright? When would we be home? He was so upset. Mom felt bad, because she did not call him earlier and I shared with her that he was usually asleep by now. I did not understand at the time why she was so upset or why he was so worried.
The second time happened in November. My mom decided to have a big Thanksgiving celebration. Now Thanksgiving was always the holiday we celebrated and sometimes we would celebrate at my home or my brother’s home, and whenever it was at mom’s house it was small, because their home was small and mom was close to eighty. Although Mom has the spirit and appears to have the energy of a fifty year old, we don’t expect her to do too much over the holidays, but Thanksgiving 2008 was very different.
Mom was informed that her brother’s children, their spouses and children were all coming to visit Grandma. They visited Grandma before, but never all together at once. Uncle had seven children and five of them, with their extended families were coming and Ma invited the entire family to dinner.
It turned out to be a fun evening and in the end it was great seeing everyone, but I will never forget my father. He looked so frail, so fragile amongst all the energy swirling around him.
The last was in December. The trains were shut down from some wire malfunction and I could not get home, so I called my mom to see if I could sleep over at their home that night. It was the height of the holiday season and taking the bus across town took more time than expected. I was so tired I fell asleep and it must have been about an hour before I reached their house. I realized as I got off the bus that they called and they were worried. Upon arriving at their front door and before I could open my mouth to apologize for not hearing my phone ring my father grabbed me and hugged me so tightly. I could feel the terror and worry in his body. My father never, ever, in all my years frankly, never hugged like that before. He did not want to let me go and I felt so bad when I made the first move. Dad was not the most affectionate person. He would kiss me, we would hug, but never this display of emotion. He was always so stoic, so controlled, so above being so emotional. He was an intellectual.
At this point I still did not know what was wrong with Dad, but it was becoming clear that he had been ill for quite some time.
Dad looks at the opening move, he is in limbo. He wants to make a move, he is compelled to make a move, but this is an opening he has never practiced, read in a book or studied from the newspaper chess articles. He ponders, he waits, the clock is ticking, how much time he has he does not know.
Good morning 2009. We woke up early on New Year’s Day, to a cold and beautiful sunny day. Cold was the central character for the entire trip and like any respectful guest I honored my host by accepting their customs and wore lots and lots of layers and sweaters. We had a wonderful time. I was so thrilled to have the time to get to know Husband’s father better. As usual I took a ton of photos, I love digital. Father-in-Law was so much fun and amazing for somebody his age.
At close to eighty, Father-in-Law’s spirit was inspiring. He suffered from high blood pressure and a host of medical maladies that plagued people his age. Yet he must have decided at a very young age to cherish every moment of his life as best he could. He had survived far more than most people. At five years old he had a bicycle accident that left him with a limp and the inability to ever use his left arm. As a young boy he actually witnessed fighting during WWII and not only lost his mother, but faced an army of soldiers who came to his home. Even today, you could feel the fear as he describes the day they knocked on his door and his pride when he blurts out that he was surrounded by women making him the only man in the house, and finally the relief that all they wanted was something to drink and then left him and everyone in their home alone. Now in the twilight of his years he lost his wife of over thirty years just four short months ago. Yes Father-in-Law had a very special soul.
Nothing would stop him, he would walk up stairs, up hills, take long drives to show Husband and I around. He also couldn’t care less about what anybody thought, he carried his blood pressure machine with him and when he had to check his blood pressure or take his medication he would simply stop, take care of himself and move on. I adored him for that. Life was too short to sweat the small stuff and I imagine he figured that out many years before.
I told Husband about my phone call the night before. He shared with me that he thought something was wrong, they all did, so much for thinking I was hiding anything, but when I came back we all put it aside and had a good time. They just cared about me and hoped it was nothing too serious and my response when I returned gave them comfort that what ever it was could wait and would work out.
We went straight to my parent’s home from the airport. Looking back on it now it was clear there was no celebration the night before and although I was in a small village thousands of miles away and they were in the big American city they seemed the more isolated.
My mom sat at the kitchen table, the same table that seems to be the center of all the events in their home. My father was distant, very quiet and more fragile than I remembered. Husband sat at the head of the table and I moved a chair further out making a circle.
Mom began, “your father woke up one day in October and he did not recognize me.”
“What,” was my immediate reply. “It is now January.”
“It’s old age,” mom continued, somewhat flippant, somewhat defiant. “There are other wives in the building with their husband’s having the same problem.”
I was furious. This had begun in October and I was just finding out about it now and her only response was that it was old age. What, is she nuts? I certainly did not hold back and neither did my mother.
My mom is also close to eighty years old and like Father-in-Law she has an amazing spirit and mom was always a fighter. She made it very clear that she was the wife, thank you very much, she was going to take care of her husband and I had nothing to do with it.
Well, I was certainly my mother’s daughter and that was not going to be the end of it.
Dad simply fell asleep while all of this was going on and Husband was not sure what his role was as my mom and I continued our reactive, pushing buttons, behavior.
I could not have been any more insensitive than I was that morning. My mother was entering the New Year with her husband of over fifty years ill. She had been dealing with this all by herself for weeks and she finally shared her main concern. She did not want to have my father taken away. She was so scared that they, whoever they are, would put my dad in some institution and she was not going to let that happen. She loved him, good or bad, and in spite of all of their ups and downs, she loved him. Dad was her husband and she would take care of him.
I often live in the moment and my brain is programmed for solving, finding solutions. I don’t remember how it came up, but on top of everything my mom was been dealing with, she also is the primary caregiver for her mother who is 102 and soon to be 103.
Grandma is force of nature, she is very sharp and also possesses a vitality for life that is extraordinary. She looks like she is in her seventies, with a full head of hair and a feisty controlling nature. Once a month Mom visits Grandma to make sure everything is in order. Grandma lives in a senior citizen building, so we know she is safe. Mom was suppose to go tomorrow, but it was very clear that Dad could not be alone. So it was my role and I had no idea at the time that this was now going to become a part of my monthly routine to spend the day with Dad.
The opening move was very small and very subtle. At first glance it appears serious, but like any virus you have no idea how it will spread, where it will spread, how quickly or how powerful is the aggression to ward a defense. The gambit happened on December 31, 2008, New Year’s Eve.
I was in Germany. Over three thousand miles away from home, in a small local restaurant, in a village with a population of approximately 250 people. As far away from a major American City as you could imagine. It was 9:00 pm when my cell phone rang. You have to love technology, that I could get an international phone call and the person calling has no idea where they are reaching me.
The sound of my father’s voice on the other end was a complete surprise.
“Hi Dad, it’s Victoria how are you?” I wasn’t sure if he knew who he was calling.
“Dad can you hear me?”
“Victoria can you come and pick me up?”
It had to have been between twenty to thirty degrees outside. 2008 was ending with a cold winter and the snow was still on the ground from the snow fall Germany had but a week before. Dad’s voice sounded frightened, vulnerable, a sound I rarely heard from him. My father was one of the most intelligent men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. His voice resonated with confidence and clarity. Dad always knew what he wanted and he spoke in a way that left no room for an argument or misunderstanding. He was always clear and to the point, but this sound across thousands of miles alarmed me and I left the restaurant with my family and friends and went outside.
“Dad I am not home, have you tried calling Brother? Where are you?”
He repeated again, “can you come and get me?”
“Dad where are you?”
“I am at” and he gave me his address.
“Well Dad you are home. Are you ok?”
“I want to go home,” he repeated.
Then I heard my mother in the background, “Who are you calling, who are you talking to?” Suddenly my mother’s voice is on the phone. “Hello.”
“Ma, it’s me, Victoria, what is going on?”
“I will tell you when you get home.”
“What do you mean? Tell me now.”
I knew something was dreadfully wrong and over the years my emotions were open and that openness brought the tears that were now flowing down my face. What is going on? What could be wrong?
My mother repeats, “I will tell you tomorrow.” She was firm, she was emphatic. “I have to go, don’t worry I will tell you everything when you get home. I have to go.” We said good-by and the phone went dead.
I always call my parents to wish them a happy new year, but not this year. I was six hours ahead and for my mom it was 6:00 pm. The tears were for a few moments uncontrollable. I don’t know why, it was visceral. I walked around, trying to pull myself together. This was the first time in a long time my husband celebrated Christmas and the New Year with his father. His father’s wife had past away in August so this was a very special trip. I could not ruin it for him, with an upset that came from a less than five minute phone call, from my father who was not articulate, that left me without any solid information.
There was no choice, I had to pull myself together. There was nothing I could do about my eyes, except say that the cold irritated me, and the call was from my family wishing me a happy new year. So I had to let it go, like water off a ducks back and enjoy myself as best I could. I was here, not home, my mom was with my dad, he was not alone. My brother was not far away so I owed it to myself to enjoy the time I had here, with the loving people around me. Hey I was flying home tomorrow anyway and I would find out everything soon enough.