This story is about my 79-year-old father, the greatest hero in my life who has Alzheimer's, and a plea for your support in the search and race for the cure.
Tribute to Daddy - a.k.a. Tommy "D"
No one would have ever suspected that over 50 years ago a bond would develop. One that to the world would appear ordinary, and known only to a few as the years passed to become extraordinary – this the special relationship of father and daughter.
As I grew from a child into a woman, it was only in the very latter years that I have come to realize the love a father has for his daughter. We take so much for granted, until one day it is there no more. Do not get me wrong, my daddy is still alive and still loves me very much, he just cannot express it as well. You see, my daddy has Alzheimer’s disease.
His love comes not so much in words, but in gestures, in the slowly fading sparkle of his eyes as they light up when I appear at the door to his room, and in his “Goodbye, what’s your rush?” as I leave. And then the empty pit in the hollow of my stomach when I disappear from his doorway, wondering, “Will this be the last smile I see? The last goodbye I hear? And the last time I get to say, “I love you, Daddy” and wipe the steady flow of tears as I keep walking away, knowing I must leave him in the care of others who love him less?
I am not a writer – but I do want to write what is on my heart today, here and now, before it is too late for YOU to think on these things. My daddy is still with me – the strong macho man who taught the tomboy eldest daughter to bat a ball, ride her bike, bait a hook and speak to everyone regardless of age, race, or prominence in society; the man who sang in front of the mirror every Sunday morning like Tennessee Ernie Ford while he readied himself for church; the man who joined Sedley Baptist Church the first Sunday in our new sanctuary in April 1950; the man who became the next building fund treasurer to prompt paying the debt for that sanctuary and all other building projects for the next 31 years; and the chairman of the board of deacons several times, who saw ministers come and go, some to other churches, some to the grave and eternity.
Even in his illness, he would continue to comment about our former pastor, “You know, I always liked old David. Yet in his healthy days, you would think that the “Archie Bunker" in him came out when he jumped David about his blue jeans, suspenders and long sideburns and told him, “Preachers where I came from wore a white shirt and tie.” Yet he loved him all the same, and David would just laugh.
There was a serious side to Daddy, one who loved his home, family and the community in which he lived. He took community life seriously and was always using his creative mind to make the world a better place around him. Many times before he ran for public office on the county board of supervisors, I heard my mother say, “You know, there is nothing your daddy can’t do when he puts his mind to it.” And that was such a true statement.
At work at Union Camp Corporation for 37 years, he was one of the most respected supervisors ever to enter the premises. He was never mean, but serious, honest and fair to everyone who worked for him. Even in his defeated mental state, he still has his wit and humor about him, and I think he will carry it to his dying day.
Daddy came up the hard way in life, losing his mother at 4 years old and with a father who left home by 5 a.m. in the morning to work a section crew on the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. He would marry and have three children: two daughters and a son. One daughter in 1984 passed away from a tragic automobile accident at age 29, leaving behind a 16-month-old baby boy and a hole in her daddy’s heart.
Daddy retired in 1990, and life seemed to be a little less stressful for him. Later in 1992, my mom would break her back almost to the point of invalidism. She was not able to walk after a freak accident (which required eight hours of surgery) when a refrigerator freezer they were moving on a hand-truck shifted and fell on her under their carport. My daddy blames himself to this day for this accident and was never the same.
In 2001, he developed congestive heart failure which ultimately required angioplasty, a five-way bypass and new heart valve. After that surgery, internal bleeding nearly cost him his life. And once more, he was even less the same than before. We started noticing little things in his thinking patterns.
A few years ago, it became obvious to me as he said and did more and more strange things, that daddy was entering the world of those with Alzheimer’s. Mom tried to deny it in her own way, until it became so obvious I knew something had to be done. One of the saddest memories I have of him is a Sunday we came home from church for lunch at Mom’s. He began the blessing and could not remember it all. He had to ask my husband to finish it for him. Then my daddy cried.
They continued to manage in their own little world at home until May 2006 when congestive heart failure, even the mildest case, took him to the emergency room at Southampton Hospital. He would never come home again. What would be a mild sedative to others after five hours of waiting seemed to trigger a mini-stroke in Daddy, and promote his Alzheimer's to the point we would not be able to care for him at home.
As I write this tribute, it is once again nearly May, but year 2007, and he is in what I believe is the last stage of the disease. He still knows us almost every day, but his health has declined steadily, and he is helpless. He cannot walk, needs assistance with his meals and his day-to-day living. Basically, he is “existing” with no quality of life, except the smiles he gives and those he receives.
Loved ones and friends, I write this for two reasons: First and foremost because I love my daddy very much, and I will always to my dying day treasure every day I spent with him, even the toughest ones this past year. But second, and more importantly, to urge you to help me and others who are Alzheimer advocates and supporters to be as generous as you can in helping to support the efforts to find the cure, which I believe with all my heart, is around the bend.
We just can’t let the momentum stop because the disease is expected to quadruple by year 2015 and will more than likely be in almost every family. The odds for you are 1 in 2 if you have a parent with the disease.
God bless each and every one of you who read and support the Alzheimer’s organizations in your area, and support those who relentlessly give care and love to the patients who have this disease which surpasses understanding.
While he is a hero to me, my daddy is just a normal, sick old man to most others. But I am sure there are the same kind of heroes in your life, and with God’s blessing and each other’s help, we are going to find the cure for this disease.
I love you, Thomas E. Daughtrey, Sr., “Daddy,” “Tommy D,” and the biggest hero in your daughter’s life.