My father passed away just over a month ago. It seems like yesterday and yet several years ago. He had been declining from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly 7 years so his loss was both a painful thing but a relief that he could finally be free and, in a sense, so could we.
Emotionally, I feel like I lost him years ago as he step by step lost the qualities that made him my Dad. AD is a cruel, cruel disease that robs a person of their essence, their dignity, and some of the best years of their life. You see, my Dad developed early onset Alzheimer’s, which starts before age 65. He and my Mom lost those precious years after retirement when extended vacations and grandchildren rule.
Dad had been diagnosed for a year when I got married. He walked me down the aisle, shook my husband’s hand, and danced with me. Immediately after, he suffered probably the steepest decline we observed during the whole of his disease. He kept himself “together” to get through my wedding day and couldn’t do it any longer. I will always hold that effort dear to my heart. It still makes me cry.
The thing that is hitting me lately as I reflect on the last 7 years of his life and everything that my family has gone through is how much nearly every moment of it was a struggle. Now, not to say that we didn’t have moments of joy and love, of course we did. But so much struggle. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of an entire family of people struggling in their own way and together at the same time for so long.
Dad struggled to keep himself together for as long as he could. Mom struggled to care for him at home on her own for as long as she could. We as a family struggled to make our voices known when we disagreed with his caregivers. Each of us struggled to hold tight to the memory of how he was as opposed to how he became. I struggled watching him not show awareness toward my son, born long after the onset of his disease. My siblings struggled with not being able to visit him at his home by themselves because of how hard it was. My niece struggled with losing a second grandparent at such a young age. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the struggle we all endured these last several years.
Now that the struggle of his disease is over, I’m now left struggling on how to deal with the pain. While in the thick of it, it became a survival tactic to push it to the back of my mind as much as I could. I couldn’t afford to break down for many reasons. One of them being that I didn’t know how long Dad would continue to decline. He could have lived for another 10 years, we didn’t know. How can you break down and then keep going? It’s easier to push it off than to have to pick yourself back up again and keep on going. So, that’s what I did. I think that’s what we all did.
Now, its finally hitting me. I still can’t break down, I have a family to take care of and a job to do and a life to live. But, little by little, my heart feels the heaviness I didn’t allow it to feel before. My Dad is finally at peace, and I can begin to heal by way of finally feeling the full effect of the struggle. So, if you happen to see me shed some tears or not be able to focus, please give me a moment. It took a long time to get here.
Richard A. Ebert
October 23, 1940 – July 5 2012