Joey Brown, Nora Brown and “Papa” Howard
Just over a year ago, my father got sick. Oh, he’s been sick before. He lived with diabetes, depression, anxiety and congestive heart failure. But just over a year ago, in what started as a second bout with congestive heart failure, he developed other symptoms of something that the doctors couldn’t fix: dementia.
Six months of rapid mental and physical deterioration followed. And after his last visit to the emergency room, his doctor told my mother that he would need full- time care. In November, he was transferred directly from the hospital to the nursing home.
My father is 80 years old. He was not a social man, although he was well liked by those that knew him. He did not spend all the “quality” time with us that fathers today spend with their kids. He worked his whole life in a factory and came home dirty and tired.
When the grandchildren came along, he was pleasant but not playful. He chose to watch from his seat on the couch, and waved goodbye when we left. I think my daughter was even a little scared of him in her toddler years. He could come across as grumpy and unapproachable. My parents live a short drive away, but we saw my father on holidays and birthdays. We spoke briefly on the phone, if he happened to answer it.
Dementia changed all of that. My father has never once asked to come home. He thinks he works at the nursing home. He was very uncomfortable leaving to come to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. (He thought they needed him there to help serve the residents.) My children, Nora, 10, and Joey, 8, and I visit weekly, not just on holidays and birthdays anymore. My father’s eyes always light up when he sees us coming.
I don’t know if he remembers our names, but he recognizes us for sure. Our visits are short, as he’s always tired now. We bring him his pudding and tell him about our week. He doesn’t really offer much to the conversation, but he’s a good listener. Some days we watch “Jeopardy.” We listen to music; Dad loves music. Some days we just sit. He loves looking at the kids. I catch him just staring at them, with a smile on his face.
There are two other residents at the home that Nora and Joey willingly give hugs and kisses to when they pass in the halls on the way to Papa’s room. When they first met these residents six months ago, they were leery to say the least. In the six months since, they have adopted them as their own, and grin ear to ear when they see them. Last week, we didn’t see one of Dad’s neighbors and Nora was truly concerned about where he may be. (He’s fine.)
My kids aren’t afraid anymore. They are compassionate. They are patient. They are seeing a different side of life. And thanks to my father, they are embracing it. When we leave him, the kids will hug and kiss him goodbye and say “love you Papa” and my father will say “I love you too.” Before the dementia, he never said those words. The man that I thought would be a dim figure in their minds as adults, will now be part of their fond memories for a lifetime.
In such a short amount of time, they have learned so much from him. For that, I am forever grateful. I love you, Dad!
Happy Father’s Day! We love you Papa!
I’ve made copies of the pictures in your mind
And put them in an album.
I’ll pass them on to my children, who will pass them on to theirs.
So, it’s OK if you forget, or can’t see them anymore
We’ll remember for you.
- Mary Beth Brown