Both of Fran’s parents, and my mother, have all passed away. So we visited my father on Mother’s Day. That in itself is not too remarkable, as we visit dad almost every Sunday. I told Fran more than once that I appreciated her spending Mother’s Day — “her” day — going to a nursing home to visit my father. “I love him,” was her simple, and completely typical, response.
Dad has had Parkinson’s disease for well over a decade now, with a variety of other ailments, from some heart issues to a scare with prostate cancer at one point. But these days his main issue is dementia, which may be related to the Parkinson’s. Like many people dealing with memory issues, he has good days and bad days. On his worst days, he’s sleepy and barely coherent. But on a good day — like yesterday — he is chatty and talkative, and even (with prompting) seems to have a basically working memory. He didn’t seem to be aware that mom was gone, but other than that we spent ninety minutes discussing a variety of things, from Rhiannon’s health issues to my forthcoming book to camping. He told us about the first car he ever owned — a Model T — as well as his first luxury vehicle (a Buick, which in his words, “I needed like I needed a hole in my head”). He remained alert throughout our entire visit, asked meaningful and relevant questions, and was affectionate and loving. When we said good-bye, Rhiannon leaned out of her wheelchair and kissed his hand. It was too sweet a moment not to capture with my iPhone camera, so here it is.
Dementia is a long slow good-bye, and as it wreaks its slow, inexorable havoc, plenty of sad or disappointing moments come along (I’ve already encountered days when Dad, smiling and genial, had no idea who I am; even more frequently, he confuses my with my older brother Don, who sees him much more frequently than I do). But then like unbidden grace, along comes a day when Dad is simply present — maybe not as eloquent or witty or sharp-minded as I’ll always remember him at the peak of his game, but still, present, simply present. Mother’s Day may have been Fran’s day, but we all got a splendid gift.