Today is December 27, 2020.
For many of you (myself included) this past year has been one of the weirdest and worst of our lives.
I haven’t been blogging about any of it: the pandemic, the quarantine, the Groundhog Day-like existence, not because it’s not note-worthy (because it sure as shit is) but mostly because I’ve been trying to come to grips with something far worse for me personally.
My dad has Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed 8+ years ago and had been, up until this flaming-dumpster-fire of a year, fairly stable. Meaning: he knew me, my husband, our children, some family and friends. He did stuff independently, and although he’d lost his driver’s license, he’d get dropped off places and manage fine without my mom. No more. The past nine months of quarantine have accelerated his decline like a tractor trailer doing 90 off a bridge.
The lack of socialization, normal routine, stimulation, ALL OF IT, have nearly erased my dad. His memory exists now in increments, mere seconds before a thought goes POOF! into the ether. He retains only his longest-term memories, thoughts and remembrances of childhood and his most important adult life. And even that seems to be slipping.
When COVID erupted and we went into lockdown, I didn’t know when I’d see my parents next. Through the spring and summer my mom and I would text or talk on the phone, trying to encourage each other through the interminably dark days. “We’re okay!” or “FUCK 2020″ and so on. I’d track the COVID numbers, in Maine and the south, where my family live just north of Atlanta. Weeks passed as I watched the map of the country morph from green to yellow to red to deepest maroon. I worried and ached and anguished over the idea of my dad and who he was becoming, wondering whether he’d remember me when I’d finally see him again.
My dad’s confusion grew with the days. Unsure of time, he would fall asleep in bed with my mom, only to wake and dress and wander around the house most nights. He would turn on the lights and the TV and wake up my mom. When she’d fall back asleep, he’d make food and overeat and have terrible bowel problems. Which wouldn’t be quite so bad if he wasn’t incontinent and wearing Depends. He would put on his coat and hat and (even in the Georgia summer) leather gloves, and wander out to the garage to wait in the car, until eventually my mom would either drive him around someplace or bring him back inside.
Through it all, my mom has simply endured. I honestly don’t know how. She answers the same questions daily, hourly, minutely; my dad often unaware of the peril outside their door. She encourages him to do things for himself, as much as he can, but my dad’s become increasingly resistant to things like hygiene. Instead of changing his wet pants, for example, he prefers to tend to them with a hairdryer. She helps my dad shave, bathe and dress, and she changes the bedsheets again and again, often twice a day, doing countless loads of laundry to keep up with it all. She makes my dad breakfast, orders and picks up food, gets groceries, runs errands, and deals with all of the other facets of life, like appointments with doctors and routine household repairs, all the while also helping my younger sister with her 3 kids. Because that’s my mom. A woman who does nearly nothing for herself and oh-so-very rarely BY herself. Because she can’t leave my dad alone for more than an hour.
In late October my mom broke the news. She was doing her utmost to keep my dad at home, at least through the holidays, but she couldn’t do it forever. My mom is a trained nurse, but she is only one person and is reaching a breaking point. As strong as my mom is emotionally and physically, she’s also in her early 70s and a wafer thin mint of a woman. My dad is 6’3” and over 200 pounds. His fading memory isn’t his only issue either. He’s had balance problems for ages and is now using a walker. Without it, he has a tendency to fall, and has on occasion done so. And my mom can’t lift him back up. I worry constantly about them both.
My husband and I drove from Maine to Atlanta to visit in early November. It had been over a year since I’d last seen my mom and dad, and the first time in four years since I’d seen my sister and her family. It was both the most painful and the most precious reunion imaginable. To limit any possible COVID exposure, my husband and I drove straight from our house to a cabin we’d rented for the week, stopping only for gasoline and to camp for the night midway. The lengths one must go to see family during a pandemic are INTENSE. But it was worth it. And thankfully none of us got sick.
For an entire week, my husband and I spent each day with my parents at their house, my husband working remotely while I cooked, ate, and puzzled with my dad. My sister, her husband and kids would join us in the evenings, and we would momentarily forget the craziness outside our protective cocoon. And then, all too soon, our week together was over.
The highlights of the trip are many, but the most poignant moment came on our very last day. My dad and I were in the kitchen, sharing an apple, when he turned to my husband and said, “See this? Christy cut it up for me.” My husband and I locked eyes. My heart LEAPT! He remembered. HE REMEMBERED. It was the first and only time my dad said my name during the entire stay. He may not remember it again, but that “Christy” from my dad was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. I can still hear it now. I hope I do forever.