I’ve said it before, it’s tough when your father is in that in between land of suffering. You haven’t lost your father – yet your father isn’t really there. You can be with your father, but not share memories. What you really have is a physical shell of your parent…. Friends post about missing their fathers and wouldn’t understand if you mention that you miss your father too.. but friends with their father’s are in that position where they don’t understand either. Unless you have been there you really can’t know what that limbo is like.
This year I helped my mother print a poster of my mom and dad to hang in my dad’s room. I’m hoping it will help my dad recognize my mother easier when she visits. His eyes are in bad shape from macular degeneration and the small pictures aren’t the easiest to see. We were able to email a picture to Staples and get a poster that is 2 foot by 3 foot printed in half an hour. Yeah!
Talking about growing up, I was describing to a person online the task of walking beans. Walking beans involves walking down each row with a hook and cutting each weed. I was so excited the first year I was old enough to join my dad and the ‘boys’ that worked for him in the field. I still remember the first day. My mom had taken us to swim lessons for the first time at the YMCA and I was in either 4th of 5th grade…. I wanted to go out and walk with those high school boys so bad. The first day was hot, but being just out of the pool I didn’t even notice. Mom had dropped me at the field on the way home. The field that was by where my cousin Judy’s house was later. We finished that field and the next day we were ready to move on to the field next field closer to my Aunt Margaret’s. My dad started the day early, while the beans were still wet. We took off down the rows and I remember one of the boys kept stepping on the corn hook and running it into his shoe. Of course my mind kept going to what would happen if he ran it into his foot!
Next thing I knew I ended up passing out. I’ll never forget waking up to find myself thrown over my father’s shoulder. Every step he took cut into my stomach and he was walking back to the truck. I remember saying something about being able to walk and my dad refusing to let me….. He put me in the truck, took me to my Aunt Margaret’s house nearby and made my mother come and get me. I was then BANNED from helping for the rest of the summer. I remember begging and pleading… telling them I was fine… but nope, I wasn’t allowed to work. Years later I would have done about anything to get a break from walking beans, but that year I wanted to so bad…
Now thinking back I can’t imagine how scared my dad must have been when I collapsed in the field. Around that time I had a habit of passing out. The reason was never found, but I passed out in a few odd places, off stools into laps, at school in the aisle (I got up to tell the teacher I was going to pass out), and even once in the vet’s office). I’m not sure if this was the first time, but now I’m sure my dad’s reaction was fear.
I wish now I could ask him about that day, it’s something we never talked about other than that summer with me begging to walk beans and my parents telling me no…. That’s one of the tough things about dementia…. you still have the person but the memories are locked in their mind forever to be lost…..
I’m hoping to come up to see dad this week… As I’ve mentioned my dad has dementia and has had many strokes….
Holidays like father’s day are a little hard, wondering how much he is aware of what day it is? I feel bad for my friends that have lost their fathers, and I also envy the friends that can spend the day with their fathers, and I am so glad my boys have a good relationship with their dad…. but I have to say being in the in between time….seeing your dad suffer through, you are happy you still have your father, but you are sad that your father is in so much pain and confusion. And you (and no one else) can’t make it easier.
My father is actually really young, only going to be 76 next week! In my dad’s lifetime he has really done a lot and had a lot of funny stories, though he hasn’t been a huge number of places. My dad did join the reserves in the 60s during one of the wars (or was that a military action)? He was in California for 6 months for that, and I remember hearing about a trip to New Orleans, but other than that the only other trip I ever remember hearing about was my parents honeymoon – and that was the story of my father of my father talking his way out of a ticket in Georgia and inviting the police office up to their farm to go fishing!
While growing up, I remember the short trips when we were younger to places like Louisville (I got dropped off to stay with friends), Kentucky to pick up a dog named Waldo (we brought back Tobacco leaves to show for show and tell) and St Louis to visit cousins. My dad also took day trips a few times to pick up cars and animals.
Most of my dad’s stories though involved highjacks he and friends had been involved in at one time or another, or things that had happened while farming. My dad had an ability to tell a story that everyone loved to hear. He had stories about everything from building a rock dam across the stream that is now by our house and flooding out the road to driving a tractor with wagon and having a semi try to pass him on a curvy road and lose control.
Dad also was always willing to help anyone that showed up at the door. People would show up at all hours of the day and night stuck on the road and dad would grab the tractor and pull them out of the snow or mud. Presents would be dropped off, usually a bottle of alcohol – that my dad rarely drank, but sometimes we would end up with an odd thing like a Datsun once with the clutch ripped out.
Growing up dad would hear about or try something and think, oh I need to try that, and off he would go! With that he built a still once – I’ve heard stories about people lined up and even laying under the spicot! Dad also heard about a man selling off animals and ran off and bought a Fallow deer at one point. Several years later dad tried a Beefalo burger and decided to try to recreate them. He and a friend drove across the state and bought two bison! Each family got one.
My dad lost his mother, my grandmother, in his early teens. She suffered for a while at home from cancer, and I know it affected him a lot. My dad would avoid hospitals, saying people die there. The story he once today, and that’s one he didn’t tell normally was that my grandfather brought in preachers to pray over my grandmother to try to get her better, but nothing worked. Dad also wasn’t a church going person. “If you just believe enough”. All through the eyes of a child, it was hard on him losing my grandmother.
He went on to wreck a motorcycle in his teens and have massive head trauma. My Uncle Tom was working in a nearby field and noticed, rushing him to the hospital. My dad was lucky to have survived and had to go stay with my Aunt Dorothy for a while after to take care of him and recuperate. Yet my dad did still manage to finish school high school.
He then went on to farming, starting with farming others land and working up to buying his own land with my mother after being discharged from the military.
Growing up my dad used every chance he could to play at the same time. He was extremely inventive with farm machinery too…. I’ve always said we were lucky to survive childhood! At two my dad made a go cart for me using a drill that was plugged in for a motor. He would put us on sleds (as toddlers) and pull us behind lawn mowers through the snow, put us in the scoop of the tractor and turn it into a fair ride going up and down while spinning in a circle, and I’ll never forget the nails and things I ran through my foot running around the barn yard. (The barn had a huge supply of food in it, ie. collection of bunnies)
My dad now only answers questions asked of him sometimes, speaking is difficult for him, and it’s hard to tell what he is really aware of. He’s in an assisted living facility, which I’m sure to him is just like a hospital that he so hated. The last time he was in the hospital and fully aware, he removed his own iv and tried to call for a ‘breakout’ ending up in someone else’s room.
So what do you do when you are in the middle ground? The ground where no one understands except those that are there with you in the same journey? And like them, everyone’s journey is different – dementia takes every person at a different rate and if a different way. With some you still see glimpses of the person that they once were, and with others you see nothing. Do they know you? Some like my dad have a body that is fighting them also. My dad now won’t use one side of his body due to strokes. That side of his body is atrophying. Family may say, I want to remember him as he was, but they also would be the first to be upset if you voice an opinion that he might now want to live in the condition he’s in? And what to do with the guilt many have allowing the thoughts to creep in that your parent might be better if they give up? It not politically correct to ever voice those feelings…. and no one understands, those that have lost their parents to some quick illness or accident, especially don’t understand.
How do you explain that what you are really voicing is the fear that your parent is going through torture and your job has become trying to figure out the best way to increase quality of life and not increase quantity of life without them suffering?
My father is a Richter. One of 10 kids, Tom, Harold, Howard, Robert, Dorothy, Margaret, Ethel, Linda, Norma, Cleda Fern (the only one that didn’t live to be an adult). In that time period it was amazing to have ten kids with 9 living to be adults. (Five are still living) All of my Aunts that are still living have battled Cancer at one point or another and are all pretty amazing. My father and my Uncle Tom are the only brothers still around. As they get older (and I do to) I don’t get to see them as often. For me it usually involves a special trip up to visit.
My dad has lots of great stories from his time growing up. Everything from damming up the creek that is now beside my parents house to when my grandfather and his brothers put cows on top of the local store. All of these stores are great to get on paper (or digital), and I keep trying to remember them all. I am also lucky to have a cousin that is about the same age as my father that has written several books on local history.
If you get the chance sit down with your father (and if possible a digital recorder) and get some of the stories recorded. You may think oh I’ve heard that a million times, but when you go to remember it later it’s hard to remember the details. If you have ever played the game of telephone you know how easy stories go from one thing to a totally different subject in the process of retelling.
As you know I have also scanned all the old photos. I try to use family parties as a chance to get each photo identified. I’ve been lucky to have several of my aunts and uncles that are no longer with us go through and label everything. I’ve also given each a copy of their part of the family tree so that they can update it. I hope to get all the pictures printed in a book someday soon so that I can have better copies for them to identify. Most of my older family members aren’t computer savvy enough to identify pictures online, and don’t have the time it would take either. Going through a book with me identifying all the pictures is easier and can lead to some great stories to go with….