Friday, June 13, 2014

Forgetting a Father

My dad. On the farm. 1995.

I lost my father long before he died seven years ago. The irony is that now I am forgetting him - like he forgot me. His forgetting was the result of a disease - the signature plaques and tangles in his brain an undeniable marker of Alzheimer’s. My forgetting is the product of time marching on.

I listen to the radio in the morning and wonder what he would think and say in response to world events and I can’t conjure it up. I try to remember the curve of his hands or the exact color of his eyes and I fail. Instead, he comes to me unexpectedly. Unbidden.

Some of the last words he spoke to me when he was still ambulatory were not kind. He greeted me at the front door when I came to visit, my husband and three babies in tow. His words to me when he saw me? “You always were a big girl.” Ouch. I wanted to turn around and walk away. Yet I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that was exactly the type of thing he would say to me. My entire life, he always - always - remarked on my weight, whether good or bad. No matter the toll Alzheimer’s had already taken, that was him.

So there was some comfort in those harsh words, that criticism. They are the last coherent words I remember him saying to me and they were hurtful. Why couldn’t I remember him saying he loved me or was proud of me? Why did I forget that he could be kind and caring and complimentary, even if I can only summon hurt?

Those last few years of his life are what I’d like to forget. The visits where he never knew I was there, where he never looked in my eyes, never gave any indication of recognition. The visits to see him in the nursing home and hospital when he could no longer walk or speak. I would read to him then - poems from Robert Frost and others he’d long ago recited at the dinner table. One of the last reactions I got was when I played music for him, appallingly loud like he liked it, on a stereo with behemoth speakers. It was a mix I had made of his favorite songs, trying to reach him - to communicate somehow. He mostly seemed asleep the entire time, slumped over in his chair. Until. The Aggie War Hymn - his and my alma mater. He came alive - toes tapping, singing his favorite line at the top of his lungs at precisely the right moment: “Sounds like hell!” Clear as a bell. 

Afterwards, he looked right at me and said, “I always did love you.” Never mind that his words were most likely meant for my mother, his college sweetheart whom he’d met on a blind date. He thought I was her, transported in his mind back to a dorm room on campus. I’ll take it. That’s what I choose to remember. Because that’s easier than the rest of it. So much easier.

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