Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fighting the Fog

I walked in where Dad couldn't see me and stole a kiss from behind. He looked at me. He just looked. No greeting. No widening eyes. Just a look. My heart sank, yet I tried to maintain my composure. I couldn't prevent myself from asking a question no son wants to ask his father: "Dad, do you know me?" It's amazing what one sees when one strains with all one's capacity to discern exactly what a loved one is feeling. There was a change in his expresion. He seemed to want to say something, but it almost seemed that he was too tired to say it, or that something unseen was preventing it. He smiled slightly and simply stroked my face. I wouldn't trade that touch for any monetary prize or temporal honor. My father touched my face and I felt as if I had won an Olympic Medal. That's the path that one must walk with a loved one suffring from dementia. It is a sad yet tender journey - brutal but interspersed with priceless and sweet moments. It is a hard, steady journey that one friend who is traveling this difficult road refers to as "the long goodbye." Today marked another painful step along the path, as I witnessed this turn in Dad. His nurses are deeply touched because he refuses to complain. They say that many of his comrades grow angrier and more agitated with each passing day and won't stop complaining. It seems that Dad refuses to start complaining, rather suffering in silence in a world known but to him. Dementia is like that too. One's deepest convictions tend to linger in strange but pronounced ways. It seems the dirt poor country boy who was overwhelmed by the abundance he found in the Army and equally struck by the contrast of the suffering he witnessed in far-flung lands, remains grateful even as he endures his most difficult war. Yet, though Dad is making this noble inner stand, it's terribly hard for me to witness Dad's declinebecause I have very clear memories of a young, 27 year-old Dad - a combat tested paratrooper who could run all day, fight all night yet maintained his winsomeness, cheerfulness and humble wisdom. Those clear memories seem to mock the frail man that I saw today. Yet it is that man that remains- the glimmer of who he truly is that I saw when he stroked my face - it is that inner man that somehow in the midst of a great and growing fog manages to find a meaningful way to communicate a deep love that he seems to fight to maintain. I'll drink in that love to the last drop - even when it seems that the well has run dry because I know that the love is there - it's really just obscured by that deep and hideous fog that it is my duty to see beyond - no matter how much it hurts to look into it and no matter how long it takes for me to see it. The fog is there, but Dad and I will face it and fight it together - forever - even when only one of us remembers what we're fighting for.

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