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Thoughts From a Daughter Turned Caregiver

I look at pictures in my albums of a man who I always will admire. He is not perfect, he’s made mistakes in parenting and being a husband, but he is a good man. He went into the marines at the young age of 18. This was in the middle of his training to be a chef. After Vietnam, he came home with scars no one could see. In the ’70s, he grew the famous Magnum P.I. Mustache that always gave my cheeks a rash when I got kisses. In the ’80s, my sister and I would sit in the back of the station wagon he drove and make faces at the people driving behind us. In the ’90s, he worked a lot to give us the opportunities he didn’t get as an Italian/Irish boy, living nearby Boston Mass. He also dealt with having a child born with a hole in his heart and then get leukemia. He would sleep next to my brother in the hospital, more than once almost getting stuck by the nurses needle because he moved in her way.

This is the man I see now struggle with words. When we do yard work, I have to give him one task at a time and demonstrate what I am talking about. (Shovel this pile over to this spot, Dad). He still gets up and does his workouts. He has done this since he was 14. Now, I have put the CD that has our work outs on the wall. They are in order of days of the weeks. When he gets confused by the moves, he used to be able to teach others, he gets angry. Not at me, but at himself. When he thinks I’m not looking, he hits his head as if it will rattle loose the forgotten memories.

When I know he is not looking, I quickly wipe away the tears that suddenly gather in my eyes. That is happening more and more. The tears spring on me, without any warning. When I go help him with the TV remote because he hit the button wrong. But he adamantly exclaims the TV is broken again. I smile and say, “it’s OK Dad, I’ll fix it. I am a magician with these things.” And I turn on the TV by pushing the power button.

We go on walks most mornings together. I love these walks. We just talk easily with each other. He tells me things to do to help train my naughty labradoodle. And I nod and tell him how Toby (our labradoodle) knows my Dad is the boss, that’s why he is good. It’s a familiar conversation. It’s a safe one. One we both know and say multiple times a week.

I’m taking him and my mom out to Boston to see his sisters one last time before he forgets them. We moved to Minnesota in the ’90s when I was starting ninth grade. I’m nervous how the plane ride will go. I tried to get him to drive but my mom’s health wouldn’t let that happen. Too long of a drive. We will be in two hotels and I hope that’s not too many changes. I made sure I got a room that has a separate bedroom. We are going to call it their apartment for the week. That way after we do one activity we can go back and settle in the living room and watch old movies.

I’ll make sure to play ’60s music while we drive around in Boston. It seems to calm him, listening to the music he grew up on. Maybe he remembers the fun times before the war. They say the oldest memories are the last to go. I hope I am a very old memory.

This is my life now. I love my dad very much! And I wouldn’t trade helping him in this way for anything. But that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t break when I see the confused veil come over his eyes when the disease tries to overcome him. For now I will just keep making memories with him. Ones he will not remember, but I will. That is until I deal with memory issues. I am already having little signs. But that’s another story.

Original image via contributor