My wife is witnessing the gradual but steady decline in her father’s mental capabilities. She often refers to herself as the “Social Worker for Her Family” and such is true. She helps her sisters, her children and now her father who cared for her all those years.
Her father lost his car in the inevitable car accident earlier this summer. It is a relief that no one was injured. Any illusions about him continuing to drive were hauled away along with the crunched vehicle. But more and more is being heaped on her shoulders as friends and family call to speak with her about their concerns following their interactions with her father.
The anecdotes now come in daily; he doesn’t remember the names of his fellow staff from the Horticulture department when they meet for their monthly coffee. He recognized a photo as being his nephew, but he couldn’t remember the boy’s name. Memories of events only months ago he places instead decades back in history. She wonders on what day it will be that he will take his daily walk and forgets how to find his way back home. These weigh on my wife; loving daughter, watching her father sink ever deeper into a murky mental abyss.
Her choices are none; she can only keep on and try to keep up. Likely soon she will take over writing his bills as she cannot find any remote semblance of order in his random piles of paper and clutter. She drives him to his appointments and the few social events he can manage; the Hort department meeting, no longer on campus, might as well be on the moon now as far as her father knows. She takes him there but he doesn’t know where he is.
He continues to work in his yard, push mower and hand held hedge clippers. Keeping the yard up is his measure of his independence. Plants he gathered on collection expeditions from all over the globe now planed in his yard he for which he no longer knows their names. The ladders have been taken away as a precaution.
I am of even less help to my wife; all I can do is watch. We bring her father over for dinner once a week where he endlessly repeats the stories of his research at the university and his experiences during WWII. I have heard them all so many times; but all I can do is nod and hope he doesn’t notice that I have long since stopped listening.
“I’ve lived too long”, he remarked to his daughter recently – a tacit acceptance of his realization that his brain is declining more rapidly than his body. All we can do is watch as the inevitable unfolds and prepare what we can; what he will allow. All that he was is in the past; he has no future – and sadly, he knows this as well.