Saying Goodbye to Dad

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Taking Away the Car Keys

It was becoming clear that it was no longer safe for Dad to be driving. The decision to take away the car keys is a tough one for a family to make. My older sister and her husband rode with him to assess his skills, and we consulted my younger brother, too. It was time to take away his freedom, and Dad accepted that decision pretty well. It was depressing for the rest of us, though -- an ending, full of memories of my tall, strong dad driving us on summer road trips, tapping his gold wedding ring on the steering wheel while exuberantly singing along to "Sweet Caroline" or "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" playing on the radio.

Meanwhile, Dad's other symptoms were getting worse. Mom was convinced he had Alzheimer's. The doctors did a number of tests and said there was no way to know for sure, but it was more likely he'd had a series of small strokes. Dementia and memory loss happen either way, they said. Not much we can do. If Dad had cancer, for example, I think Mom would have talked to her friends and asked for help. But because it was dementia, and unpredictable, it had a stigma to her. So we really kept it all to ourselves for the longest time. This, of course, is not healthy for anyone, according to the book.

Moving In

I had to leave my quaint Victorian-era apartment in Dallas because the building was going to be renovated, so I decided to move in with Mom and Dad for a while and try to help. That's when I realized how much Mom was trying to handle by herself. Dad's short-term memory was so bad he couldn't remember if he'd eaten or not. And he frequently said that he "wanted to go home." Sometimes when he got really agitated about it, we'd put him in the car, drive around a while and then return, saying, "Now we're home!" Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

Some days it was really hard to remain patient with him. Mom would argue with him, trying to get him to realize he was mistaken. That was futile, of course, and only upset Dad, who didn't understand what he was going through. Gibbons' book explains how natural it is to want to fix things, and offers better alternatives for reasoning with someone in this type of situation. Wish we'd known more then. Instead, we drank wine. Lots of wine. And fought our depression. Oh, and my love life during this time? Nonexistent.

Continued on page 4:  The Night Shift


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