It was blistering cold, the wind driving fierce, and swirls of snow circling around my face. It wasn't the kind of snow that would stay around or even stick for a few minutes - I'm still waiting for that kind of snow. It was the kind of snow that made the evening a bit surreal and illustrated well this journey I'm on with a father who has Alzheimer's and a mother who misses him much and battles with her own health issues. I pulled into the parking lot of the memory support home where my father lives, jumped out of my car, and ran against the wind. I walked through the first set of electronic sliding doors, stepped inside, and rang the bell, waiting for someone to let me into this locked down place. As I stood there, I looked through the glass door and down the long hallway in front of me, the hallway that leads to Dad's room, the last one on the right. He was standing there. He was standing at the end of the hall, in front of the locked emergency exit, looking out the window at the snow - looking out to where he can't go alone. I wonder what he was thinking about. I know the longings of his soul - longings to be with family and places familiar. But the familiar places are becoming less and less easy to find.
The sliding door opened and I began walking towards Dad's back. I was almost half way there when he turned around. "Hey Dad!" He just looked at me puzzled as if a bit confused. "Hey Dad! How are you?" I said as I put one arm around him.
"I just couldn't believe it! I just couldn't believe it" He repeated as it sunk in that I was really there.
Until he hugged me and felt my flesh and bones, he just couldn't believe his eyes. He just couldn't believe that what he longs for moment by moment was really coming true. In Dad's mind, time doesn't register the way it does for the rest of us. When I've been to visit in the evening, he has forgotten it by morning, and he begins to long to see the daughter he hasn't seen in some time. It's this way with everyone. Visitors come and go. Mom spends about 3 hours a day with Dad, but he doesn't remember from day to day. So the moments of sadness, loneliness, longing for family, and fear of abandonment always return.
Finding the familiar takes a bit more work these days. Old photo albums are a life saver on those evening visits when conversation is limited by what he can remember. We can just sit face to face and talk, but I find it is helpful to take something with me that we can do together. Anything that can help him look back and recall better days, any activity that makes him feel useful no matter how small it may seem to me. Tonight I'm going to take more reading material and writing material. He can still read and likes to read to the other guests and aides that work at his side, especially those books that his father wrote or that were written about him. He can write, although it doesn't always make sense. He was a scholar and loved to study and write and teach so maybe if I can give him a bit of that old feeling back it will be good.
Fortunately Dad is very much the same as he always was in regards to his personality. I'm grateful for that. I miss the strong patriarch of our family. The one that had all the answers. The one that was wise and reliable. The one that could tell me what to do when I didn't know what to do. He leans on us for that now. It's okay though. It is a blessing to have him lean on me. He's been a great father and he still is. His father often prayed that his children would strive to be good rather than great. My father has prayed the same prayer for us kids. My father is a very, very, good man. I hope when it is all said and done, that I can say the same thing about myself. That's what he wants for me, to have a good heart, a heart for God.