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Dedicated Texas Son Cares for Dad with Alzheimers, Parkinsons

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
08/04/14  10:38 PM PST
Son Cares for Dad with Alzheimers

Caregiver Story Spotlight | 2013 Shield HealthCare “What Makes Caregiving Rewarding?” Story Contest Finalist

A warm thank you to Mel G. of Laredo, TX, for sharing his story…

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” – King Lear (Shakespeare): Act 1, scene 4, lines 288-289

After my mother died, my I brought my father, who suffered from Parkinsons, to live with me in Arizona. When he started having difficulty remembering things, I took him to a specialist. Sitting in the doctor’s office, my father voiced the question I didn’t have the courage to ask. “The lab tests are conclusive, then? No mistake?”

“It’s unlikely,” the doctor said quietly. “You have the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

“How long, then, before it takes me over. Before I no longer recognize people and things?”

“There’s no way to know. It could be years.”

We left the doctor’s office, walking silently, staring at the ground. The verdict dogged our heels, pulled at our coat sleeves. “Well,” said my father, his usual good humor returning. “I’m hungry. Let’s get something to eat before I forget how to use a knife and fork.” I tried to smile, but only wrinkled my lips a little.

Over the next few months, I realized that the doctor was wrong. It wasn’t years. It came on inexorably, like the tide at night, eating away at the shore. Each week another faculty was lost.

One morning I made his breakfast and placed his medicine next to his plate, as I always did. When I left to run errands, he was sitting in his lift chair in his bedroom, watching television and flipping channels. When I returned several hours later, his food and medicine were untouched on the table. I went into his bedroom where he was still sitting in his chair.

“You didn’t eat.”

“I must have. I’m not hungry.”

He forgot to shower unless I reminded him. I put shampoo in the shower instead of soap. He rarely used toothpaste unless I put it on his brush for him. One day as we were driving through the cliffs that surrounded our small town, he asked me a strange question. “How did these mountains get here?”

I was about to explain tectonic plate pressure, uplift and erosion, but I said, “I really don’t know.”

He lost the ability to read, and even to speak coherently, but he never forgot who I was or what a fork was for. His favorite meal was breakfast, and we went out often. We always went to the same restaurant, a place where they knew us well. He always wanted the same thing – a Belgian waffle, covered with ice cream and chocolate sauce. And he always poured maple syrup on the whole thing, and ate it all. I filled up just watching him eat. I loved to see the shimmer in his eyes and the smile on his face when the waitress brought his plate to the table. He was indeed like a child. I thought of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but I knew that unlike that old man, there would be no recovery. My father and I had not always agreed but he had done much for me and I was determined not to be a thankless child.

He had more and more difficulty walking. One morning, his arm around my neck and my arm around his waist, I helped him from the car into the restaurant. The waitress, who knew us, hurried over to hold the door for us.

“You’re a good son,” she said to me as helped my father shuffle to a table and sit with my assistance. “You’re a very good son.”

Now, years after my father died, I take some comfort in those words, believing he would have said them himself had he been able.

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