dementia · family


I need to apologize to Osyth. A few weeks ago in her blog, Half-Baked in Paradise, she wrote about moving. Something about her words broke my heart. Maybe it was this:

My heart felt the leaden weight of sorrow because my safe-place, my home, my warm hug, my protective cloak, call it what you will has gone.

When she posted again, I didn’t even go read it. I couldn’t — I was still grieving over her move. Then she posted again, and I read it. In fact, she started re-blogging a series about her home, and the renovations there, and I binged. She’s posting day by day. Like a glutton, I looked the whole series up and read it, laughing — actually revelling with her — at the great adventure she has been on for some time. (Start here: Coup de Coeur: Part One)

Sorry, Osyth, for not waiting for you to repost them all. I’m just the kind of person who likes to read the end of the book before I read the middle.

Home is something so dear to me. One of my many started-and-discarded blogs had the tagline, “I love where I live.”  And I do. I love upstate New York.  I love Cooperstown. I love the four seasons, the Susquehanna River, Otsego Lake, the trees, the village streets, the country roads, the people, the cows, even the tourists. This is my home — and the thought of living elsewhere is almost unthinkable.

My father keeps asking me what brought me to Cooperstown.

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“What made you come here?” he’ll say, as if that clarifies anything.

“Are you asking about why I first moved to Cooperstown?”

“Yes,” he replies.

“We moved here as a family in 1967,” I say. “You took a job at Bassett Hospital as the head of their General Services department.”

“Yes, that’s right,” he replies, every time, remembering, or acknowledging the plausibility of this story.

“I was a child,” I remind him, “your child. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Where did Bud come from?” my father asks, trying to piece together my family.

We’ve gone through this many times now. I know the questions that are coming, but it’s sad because he has lost a large chunk of my life.

“I took a year off from college and met Bud while I was working at Bassett,” I say.

He nods, but I’m not sure he remembers anything about this.

Long pauses punctuate our conversation.

“Where did you come from?” This question often comes next. It’s another one that needs clarification. I’m sure he’s not asking about the birds and the bees, so I name the army base where I was born.

“How long did you live there?”

My mom and the children she moved with all by herself

“Six weeks,” I tell him. “When I was a baby, Mom loaded me, Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter into a station wagon to join you in Fort Riley.”

Yes, I was 6 weeks old. My oldest brother was 5 years old, my sister not quite 4, and my middle brother only 21 months old. Whenever I asked my mother about my birth and first year of life, all she would say to me was, “That was a hard time.” I’ll bet it was. The legend of a super mom.

“I don’t remember any of that,” my father says, and, of course, he wouldn’t because he was busy working at his fledgling career as an army doctor.

Another long pause. I begin to focus on whatever it was I had been doing before this conversation began.

“So what made you come here?” my father will ask, and we’ll start the whole thing again.

“You did, Dad,” I tell him. “You did.”

6 thoughts on “Roots

  1. From now on when I hear the term ‘patience of a saint’ I’ll think of reading this post. I went through this with my mother-in-law, but there was just that much more distance between us that it didn’t affect me in quite the same way. But it was hard, very hard.

    1. It’s a hard season — that’s for sure. I don’t really have the patience of a saint either. My children see my eye-roll when we start the third or fourth jaunt through this circular conversation.

  2. Please no apology. I know that piece was not easy to read and in the sensitive and empathetic was bound to stir up feelings and memories. I’m fine now … it seemed I had to write what felt very painfully to move on. Now I’m here in Grenoble a while longer for which I am grateful and our little square house protects my belongings …. the restoration stutters and stalls but we will get her finished and content in her appropriate finery in good time. We estimate we have about 2 years to go and mostly she cooperates. Your story though …. Your father and his loop repeat which grates and wears you down and yet daily you press reset and Don the smile and grit your teeth and roll your eyes and LOVE him. You are a lesson to us all. Wrap yourself in the joy of being in a place you truly love and remember you have earned it. As for me …. big news breaks next year. I can’t talk of it except to say there’s more upheaval but this time I intend to embrace it, live the moment, look back only with gratitude and take every bump and sparkle as a moment in a life that I am graced to be living. Bless you, Sally… I’m so grateful we connected 🙂

  3. What a wonderful description of the conversations with a parent who is not able to remember. I experienced it with my mother-in-law and would remind myself that expressing frustration was useless and cruel – I would try to stay in the moment with her and remember how much I loved her for how she enriched my life. She died many years ago but is still enriching my life through her son.

  4. I have a cousin whose husband is in his fifties. What he has is something entirely different. His epilepsy affects him in such a way that not only are there seizures, but his brain can’t retain memories in the same way as most people. He retains memories for a certain amount of time, say a few years, and loses old memories as new ones over write them. So he has no direct memory of his wedding day anymore, let alone childhood. But his cognitive abilities are there.

    1. As my father often says, even in his dementia, “The brain is an amazing thing.” It’s interesting how differently people experience the different types of brain diseases.

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