Friday, April 5, 2013

Losing someone you love- slowly

As part of a writing class I'm in, we were supposed to write out own eulogies, from the point of view of a loved one, and another from the point of view of a coworker/ boss/ client. It was interesting timing, because I've been thinking a lot about my Dad, and what his life meant (and means still).

Dad is still around but we are losing him, a little piece at a time, to Alzheimer's. I live 800 miles away so I only see him a few times a year. When I'm back in my hometown I go see him every day for the 3-4 days I'm there. I take him for a walk, because I know how he loves being outside and getting fresh air.

What can I say about my dad? One day I will probably have to say something at his funeral.
My Dad is a very smart man. He has a PhD in physics. I used to ask him for help with my math homework- actually I only did that once or twice, because he would get so excited about the topic he'd go on for hours and hours. I was trying to get my homework over with and he was savoring it like a fine French wine.

My Dad had 2 sailboats and won a lot of races in them. I learned to sail at the sailing club where he kept his boats. He built furniture. He tried out for the Boston Braves (before they moved to Atlanta). He could fix anything. He coached my Y basketball team. He played the trumpet. He worked on cars. He built computers. He was an accountant briefly and was in the Coast Guard long enough to get the GI bill to pay for college, where he met my mom (who also has a PhD). He used to ride his bike to campus. He made his students work hard. He had a lot of interests: stamp collecting, building picture frames, baseball. He loved music and listened to it with a deep appreciation, not like it was acoustic wallpaper. And he had a great sense of humor. Everybody loved my Dad. Even when I was in 8th grade, when nobody liked any adults, my friends would say "Your dad is so cool!"

Now he is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. He wakes up several times in the night thinking it's morning. He'll take 3-4 showers a day. He will forget to eat. He really needs the structure of the nursing home, and he's pretty happy there for the most part. The nurses like him and he gets a fair number of visitors. Once in a while he doesn't understand why he can't have his car keys.

He told me his ears were bothering him so I asked the nurses to get someone to clean them out for him. Turns out he had stuck a hearing aid *battery* stuck in each ear. Woah. And yet, he can still do quantum physics. And he still knows who we all are. What's really nice is how appreciative he is to see us, and how loving and sweet he is now. He wasn't like that when we were kids. He wasn't mean, he just wasn't openly affectionate.

I write him letters every week (he no longer can figure out how to do e mail), and my sister tells me he *loves loves loves* them. I try to keep them light and include a comic strips from the paper. He never writes back, but having my sister tell me he enjoys them means I will keep writing them.  When my Grampa (Dad's Dad) was widowed, I wrote him a few letters but he never responded so I stopped writing. Now I know he probably read them.

My mom is selling the house, so I inherited his record collection, which I am excited about digging through. It's strange to inherit things from someone who is still alive. It makes the loss very real. And yet he may live a long time. So, while he is alive and knows who I am, we have a chance to have the relationship we didn't really have as I was growing up. And although I'm sad to lose him, right now I have more Dad than I ever did.

Sometimes when people are given a terminal diagnosis, they hold their funeral while they are still alive. There was an old TV show called "This is Your Life" where they would honor people and reunite them with old teachers or other meaningful people in their lives. I would love to throw my dad a party and have people come tell him all the nice things they never got around to saying. But parties overwhelm my dad. So I guess I'll just put it in a letter.

Carla Ulbrich

The Singing Patient: Author, Speaker, Humorous Songwriter and Entertainer - Carla's book "How Can You NOT Laugh at a Time Like This?"