I never thought at age 17, or really any age, I would be co-parenting my dad with my mom.
This may sound ridiculous, but it is my reality.
Everyday, I face the fact my dad will never be the dad I grew up with. The handyman, the comedian, the farmer and the adoring father I knew and loved now is a completely different man.
While he still is my father, and I still have all the love in the world for him, our roles have been reversed.
He once told me to be careful when I go outside. Now I tell him that. He once told me I couldn’t drive. Now I tell him that. He once had to repeat facts to me. Now I do that for him.
Telling your father he can’t drive, over and over because he forgets, digs at my heart each and every time. He once did everything, and now, he is a danger to himself and others, just by going outside. Along with close family and friends, I have observed the way life has changed since my dad has developed Alzheimer’s.
My father developing Alzheimer’s was, seemingly, inevitable. His mother and grandmother both died from the disease. He also was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 49 years old and Parkinson’s can eventually lead to dementia. Alzheimer’s is just one form of many under the dementia spectrum. According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, dementia is defined as “a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.” This definitely is what has been observed about dad.
My dad used to have the sharpest mind out of everyone in the family. I remember practicing states and capitals with him and he could ring everyone of them right off the top of his head. I also can distinctly remember going straight to him for help on my math homework. He was so talented and sharp when it came to anything math related. He also made his living as one of the wisest farmers in the area. Everything I have now, is due to his smart and thoughtful decisions he had when it came to farming.
Above all, he used to have the most wonderful personality. He cared about everyone and would never question for a moment helping anyone in need. So many times I can remember dad coming in around 6 p.m. from a hard day’s work, only to get a call from one of his elderly landlords about something they needed help with. Whether it be shoveling snow, painting a barn or fixing fence, he was there.
This is not just my testimonial. My mom also has been witness to this change.
“My whole life has changed,” she said. “My husband spoiled me, by doing everything for me. With everything that broke or needed fixed, he handled it. Now all those responsibilities are on me.”
Besides the dynamic of the environment, the dynamic of our relationships with Dad also have changed.
As a child, I envisioned my dad and I building things together, going hunting together and playing our usual round of pool in the basement on Sunday afternoons continuing forever and ever. I never imagined I would take for granted all those simple things, when all so abruptly came to an end.
I could still try and build something with Dad, but it would most likely lead to him breaking something or hurting himself because he can’t figure how to do these tasks anymore. Keep in mind, this was the same man who built me a playhouse that contained a loft, electricity and air conditioning, among many other projects and gifts. Observing this change in his abilities over time is beyond tragic for all of my family members and Dad’s close friends.
We have all had to take on new roles and find different ways to adapt our relationship with Dad. My brother, Alan, has known dad a few more years than I have, though he is not dad’s biological son. Dad and Alan have always had a great relationship. Dad always considered Alan his son and would always do anything for him. Alan has seen how he has had to change his interactions with Dad.
“I like to interact with him now with other family around because it seems to ground him in reality more,” he said. “I don’t like confusing him or like correcting him if his memory is off. I still like to talk about past experiences with him but I hate to think that upsets him if he compares then to now.”
He also has realized how Dad had once worried about Alan’s safety while he was in Iraq for many years, to Alan now worrying about Dad’s safety in everyday life.
My mom said Dad “took care of me and now I take care of him. Instead of a husband/wife relationship, it is now a nurse/patient or parent/child relationship.”
I find this to be my sentiment, as well. Instead of a father/daughter relationship, it now is the same as mom mentioned, a nurse/patient or parent/child relationship.
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Needless to say, life around the Schluter house has changed since Dad has developed this horrid disease.
I often imagine what life would be like had Dad never gotten Alzheimer’s. It seems like some magical, glorious dream.
I took for granted so many things dad did before this time. I would give anything to see dad waving at me from his tractor out in the field or surprising me with some new thing he has built for me. It’s little things like that my family and I miss the most. Though it may seem as if I am stating my dad is all the way gone, the truth is he’s still with it enough to have a decent conversation. I still can talk to him like I did in the past, only now there is some disconnect in his responses and understanding.
All of us treasure the little moments where we see a bit of his iconic wit come through in conversation. As much as I would kill to have my “old dad” back, I must remember to cherish the time I have with my dad, Alzheimer’s and all.