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It’s not that I don’t want to. I can’t.

August 27, 2012

A lot of people don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of Daddy’s condition. While Mother, Timber and I are devastated by his personality changes, most everyone who interacts with Daddy doesn’t detect any manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, Mother and Daddy drove to my best friend Leslie’s parents’ house in Dahlonega the other day to drop off her bridesmaid dress. Daddy and Mr. McAbee enjoyed automatic conversation fodder because they both attended North Georgia College, allowing Daddy to engage his long-term memory. Daddy never had met Mr. and Mrs. McAbee, and Leslie later told me that her parents were pleased to find Daddy as talkative as his reputation prompted them to expect. However, the McAbees still express sympathy and concern for my family. On one recent Sunday afternoon, Mrs. McAbee and I stood in her kitchen crying and nodding in understanding before kicking off the tearless portion of our visit with tea.

Other people are in denial and/or ignorant of what has happened to Daddy’s brain. In several posts I’ve mentioned that Daddy decided to stop teaching Sunday school lessons after the diagnosis. Despite Daddy’s clear expression of discomfort with continuing to teach, the new instructor asked Daddy to substitute his class while he was away for a couple weeks. Both classes went really well, partially because the new teacher prepared lesson plans before going out of town. But the thought of independently developing course outlines and delivering them on a weekly basis causes Daddy a lot of anxiety. After all, Daddy’s neuropsychological exam and MRI concluded that his ability to multitask is gone, and forcing him to draw upon an eroded capability would invoke unnecessary frustration and embarrassment. Still, Daddy charmed his former pupils – so much that for the first time ever, they held a vote to determine who would serve as their teacher for the next liturgical year, overwhelmingly clamoring for Daddy to return.

While the poll results surely touched and flattered Daddy, he stopped teaching for a reason. Upon receiving news of his reelection, Daddy declined to fill the position. As if the word “no” were synonymous with “maybe,” a few church members called¬†Mother in an attempt to change his mind. One caller assumed Daddy just needed extra encouragement, while another had the nerve to call Mother overprotective.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Daddy said. “I can’t.”

To quote Lorrie Morgan:

What part of no don’t you understand?

I feel like I’m floating in Limbo, viewing Daddy through alternate lenses of reality. The congregation sees him as the old Robert Wages; his Army buddies, a reminder of their own mortality; his childhood friends, still vibrant but not exploding with his former boisterousness; and me, a leaf spinning in a river current that gradually will slide away.

In a dream the other night I walked through my parents’ backyard pasture, passing classmates and scenes from elementary school. I wore a hideous jean vest from my fourth grade chorus class with a red sequin treble clef glued to its right pocket. I found Daddy standing in front of a mid-century desk surrounded by old family photographs and grabbed him, plastering my cheek to his chest, yelling over and over that I don’t want to grow up yet. At that age I constantly worried about my parents’ eventual death but managed to talk myself out of it, as their demise remained an incomprehensible eternity away. Now that incomprehensible eternity has transpired.

I’m glad I experienced the dream because that’s the Daddy I want to always remember despite the changes that lie ahead: the father with a chest that feels like a pillow but somehow also like indestructible stone.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Timber permalink
    September 26, 2012 5:46 pm

    I can’t believe you quoted Lorrie Morgan! I haven’t thought about her in years. I like the construction of the third paragraph from the bottom. Your personal metaphor for Daddy was nicely articulated, albeit upsetting.

  2. September 26, 2012 8:08 pm

    When my friend Rachel read this post, she asked on Facebook if Lorrie Morgan is still looking for something in red. I hope to God she found the right outfit by now. And thank you for the metaphor compliment. Such intense feelings often are difficult to articulate.

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