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I love you, too! Boo-hoo-hoo!!!

June 6, 2012

On Monday night MacGyver stayed in my lap for an hour – a shocking contrast to his typical routine of gnawing my wrists and attacking my ankles. Savoring his sweet mood, I remained on the couch and watched two instant episodes of The Wonder Years on Netflix. I remember the first episode from childhood. Kevin goes on a joint field trip with the junior high school where his girlfriend Winnie transferred. As the students load their respective buses to depart the museum, Kevin discovers that Winnie has met someone – and she boards the bus with her new boyfriend’s palm against her back. In the next episode Kevin’s denial prompts him to make a fool of himself and say hurtful things to Winnie he doesn’t mean. Near the end Kevin seeks comfort from his father Jack, who typically exudes an air of cynicism, fatigue and misery. However, Jack understands the magnitude of Kevin’s sadness, softens up and offers Kevin a genuine hug.

Naturally, I cried, really letting it out when MacGyver spotted a squirrel through the glass door, leaped off my lap and hustled toward it.

Daddy always has mocked my hypersensitivity, typically helping me see the ridiculousness in the impetus for my tears. I particularly recall phoning Daddy from the parking lot behind my college dorm, sobbing, shaking my head and flinging saltwater across the dashboard.

“D-d-d-DADDY,” I stuttered when he picked up, carpet mill machinery roaring in the background. “Hnnnhhh!” I wailed.

“Hernnnhhh, what is it sweetie?” he mirrored my moaning.

“I just w-w-wanted…to tell you I L-L-LOVE YOU.”

“Hernnnhhh, I love you, too! Boo-hoo-hoo!!!” he fake bawled.

“It’s not funny, Daddy!”

“I know, her-her-her-hernnnhhh!”

“I’m being serious!”

“I’m bein’ serious, TOO!”

I eventually giggled and had a better day.

On occasion Daddy has replaced sarcastic torment with sincerity, probably when the saga at hand plucked his own heartstrings – my first break-up, an unfair work performance review, dealing with a bully boss. I never knew the depth of the comfort of Daddy’s embrace until I threw myself on him at my grandfather’s funeral visitation. My skanky cousins huddled in front of me, and strangers from Granddaddy’s days as a high school principal dotted the pews. Mother remained surrounded by the many people who knew and loved her father, and Timber was studying abroad in England. (The family made an executive decision not to tell her about Granddaddy until she returned.)

I felt lonely.

Daddy paced near the casket, pausing in front of a poster board of photographs of Granddaddy as a baby, a World War II officer, a newlywed. I raced toward Daddy and buried my face in his chest, smearing mascara onto his suit coat’s front pocket. At first he laughed but then gripped me harder as I hanged on him like an orangutan.

Last week I stumbled through a rough patch after trying to read Still Alice, a novel that portrays a former Harvard professor’s dementia progression. For the sake of my (and Ryan’s) mental sanity, I put it back on the bookshelf. Red-faced and snot-nosed, I called Daddy to make sure he knows I love him since one day he might not recognize me.

“Please!” I pleaded to him. “Tell me you know I love you.”

“Of course!” Daddy answered. “And I love you, your mother and your sister more than anything in this world.”

Daddy didn’t mimic me or exaggerate my already hyperbolic tone. That time he knew I was serious.

That’s what we call being full of shit.

June 1, 2012

Daddy and I always have called each other often, but the conversations only last a few minutes. He phoned me a lot when he still was working, told me he loved me and raced back into the mill. Now that I’ve lived on my own for several years and experienced real life, I feel like I finally can connect with Daddy to a deeper degree – however, his condition prevents our relationship from developing toward the level I crave.

Overall, I would say Daddy isn’t much of a phone person, although until recently he frequently called his childhood best friend and a few Army buddies for regular updates. Perhaps because of anxiety or depression, Daddy doesn’t phone them anymore.

I’ve increased my trips home but want to hear Daddy’s voice more often than a couple weekends a month. So I contact him almost every day. Discussion topics are extremely limited because I’ve been forced to adjust to not asking Daddy many questions, as inquiries would require him to rely on his memory. One of the most common expressions to kickstart a chat is “How was your day?” But Daddy usually can’t remember what the day entailed, so he always provides the same answer with slight variations, such as “Oh, we went to the gym, walked the dogs, worked in the yard. It’s been great.”

And when I inquire about dinner parties with family or friends, Daddy delivers believable accounts, like “It was good, period.”

I realized how much anxiety questions can cause when I prodded Daddy to tell me a humorous Army acronym he taught me in March.

“Daddy, what was that funny Army acronym?”

“I don’t know.”

“You know, the MF one.”

“I can’t tell you, I don’t know.”

“It’s something motherfucker.”

“Oh yeah, REMF. REMF.”

“Right, rear echelon motherfucker! Thanks!” (This slang military term refers to non-combat forces.)

I felt inconsiderate and guilty after forcing Daddy to strain to remember, particularly when I heard the anxiety in his voice. From now on, I am going to present him with mainly statements instead of questions.

Daddy and me at the Varsity Jr. on Memorial Day

Daddy and me at the Varsity Jr. on Memorial Day

For example, on Monday I met my parents halfway in Kennesaw to pick up my cat MacGyver. Mother and Daddy were nice enough to host their grandcat while I visited my fiance’s grandparents and extended family in Florida. I already had let Mother and Daddy know how much the change in routine clogged my bowels.

“I lost three pounds when I finally doo dooed,” I notified Daddy at the Varsity Jr., where we ate lunch of course.

“That’s what we call being full of shit.”

I’ve read to focus on what your loved one with Alzheimer’s can do, not what he can’t do. And Daddy still has a phenomenal sense of humor. Plus he clearly isn’t a REMF.

You wanna do a Richard Simmons tape?

May 20, 2012

Society expresses great sympathy for Alzheimer’s sufferers, but people often forget the ones who are affected just as much or more than the diseased – the caregivers. Since Daddy’s forced retirement and diagnosis, Mother’s life has dramatically changed. She once spent the majority of her waking hours in solitude and now serves as Daddy’s 24/7 guardian. Daddy used to do all the driving, but Mother chauffeurs him to all his hot dog outings, not to mention his appointments. Opportunities to work in the yard and spend time with friends have shifted from abundant to scarce. While I try to regularly remember and celebrate her superpowers, I appreciated the recent national recognition of Mother’s Day.

The weekend kicked off with befuddlement. A few days prior, Timber briefly visited home after spring finals and before her trip to San Francisco, and insisted that she and Mother enjoy an afternoon of pedicures and plant-shopping alone. Mother worried about leaving Daddy unattended, particularly since a handyman was scheduled to stop by and assess some jobs to do around the house, like replace the molding and closet doors. Mother wrote a detailed list of the desired updates and even notified the handyman of the list in addition to Daddy’s memory problems. In the midst of Mother’s perennial browsing, Daddy frantically called to say he’d lost the list. Timber walked him through checkpoints such as the stove island, counters and trash cans with no luck. Plus, the handyman phoned Daddy to say he was on his way but never showed up.

Mother carped all weekend about the “blasted list,” and how no one is good for their word these days. Adding to Mother’s confusion, the handyman eventually followed up on his preliminary evaluation of the house. Apparently he came by and took the list from Daddy – all of which escaped Daddy’s memory. The stress of keeping up with the list overpowered Daddy’s ability to focus on another responsibility. Even when the doctor diagnosed Daddy with mild cognitive impairment, he noted that Daddy’s multi-tasking competence was gone.

Despite that frustration in addition to healthcare and prescription refill hassles, the three of us managed to maximize our time together. One highlight involved eating a late lunch at Simply Southern, a “meat and three” restaurant attached to the nearby Citgo station. Why the establishment is advertised as a meat and three confounds me, since the closest thing to a vegetable on the menu was fried green tomatoes with a side of Ranch dressing. Still, the patron mullet-watching and indoor murals compensated for the gurgles that erupted from my stomach for the rest of the afternoon. Perhaps my favorite mural is a wedding cake painted beside a booth, with the following message scrawled across its three tiers: “If the sun refuses to shine, I would still be loving you.” If “refuses” were changed to the past tense, the cake would accurately quote Led Zeppelin. I love that it doesn’t. The Wall of Flame also amuses me, with three photographs tacked beneath a large stuffed pepper. Only three men have been able to stomach Simply Southern’s spicy chili. I think one of them was in my kindergarten class.

On Sunday morning I stumbled into the kitchen to find Mother huffing over the kitchen sink holding pieces of the faucet. In an effort to clean the dirty spout, Daddy took apart the end of the nozzle but obviously forgot how to put it back together. We assembled and disassembled the parts for more than an hour without success. Even when the faucet looked right, water spewed from it in odd directions.

“I’m irritated with you,” Mother emanated stinkeye when Daddy walked in.

“Why?”

“You took this. APART.”

“I did?”

Mother holds her Richard Simmons DVD.

To relieve stress and my Simply Southern bloat, I desperately longed to go for a jog, but it had been raining all weekend.

“You wanna do a Richard Simmons tape?” Mother offered. “I’ve got one in here.”

I used to sweat to the oldies in high school when I was anorexic and exercised all day, burning calories after indulging in a Fudgsicle. Despite my eating disorder, I couldn’t complete the workout more than three times because it was so boring.

“Oh my God. Why do you have that?” I asked Mother mid-guffaw.

“I got it at Wal-Mart. It’s the 20th anniversary edition. Wanna do it?”

“Okay…” I hesitated.

“Well it’s an hour and a half long. Never mind.”

Feeling flabby, I jogged in the rain while listening to the Fugees. I found the combination of splattered sunglasses and Lauryn Hill strangely cathartic. Still, I sort of wish Mother and I had completed the Richard Simmons DVD together. It might have made Mother’s Day weekend even more epic.

The dogs and I want to know what we’re having for supper.

May 11, 2012

I recently read an Atlantic article discussing new evidence that people with a strong sense of purpose are better equipped to withstand the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

…most of us — regardless of whether we develop clinical symptoms of “Alzheimer’s disease” or not — will accumulate harmful amounts of plaque and tangles in our brains as we age. Autopsies show that. What the [Rush University Medical Center] researchers’ results indicate is that having a strong sense of purpose in life, especially beyond the age of 80, can give a person’s brain the ability to sustain that damage and continue to function at a much higher level.

Daddy has been hit with a double whammy of circumstances that would rob anyone of feelings of self-worth: Alzheimer’s-related memory loss and because of that, no choice but to retire. I often hear about recent retirees’ boredom and their decision to return to work full- or part-time. I suppose a steady job gives a lot of people a reason to get out of bed; otherwise, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves – and understandably so. Daddy dedicated his life to his career and God: out of bed by 4 a.m., coasting down the driveway at 7 and arriving home around 6 – sometimes 10 on stressful days. Plus he attended church on Wednesdays as well as Sunday mornings and nights, and served as a deacon. Daddy brainstormed a repository of diverse and fulfilling ideas for his retirement: volunteer at Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega; work part-time as a Wal-Mart greeter per his love to meet new people and talk; start trout fishing again; visit fellow church members in the hospital and at home; chauffeur the elderly to the doctor and other appointments. Unfortunately, all of these activities require transportation, and Daddy no longer can safely operate a vehicle. And even if driving weren’t an issue, the social anxiety that accompanies memory loss has deteriorated his formerly gregarious nature.

So, I worry that Daddy spends most of the day napping and watching TV, instead of keeping his brain stimulated and as protected as possible against disease progression. In my “Style over Calendars” post I mentioned Mother’s efforts to provide Daddy with a list of daily chores, so he can cross off tasks accomplished and feel useful. However, the calendaring system lasted only a few days. For nearly 30 years, Daddy made a living while Mother put equal effort into raising Timber and me, and maintaining an orderly home. I’m not surprised that Daddy finds difficulty making the bed, washing the dishes and sweeping the sidewalks when Mother spent three decades completing those chores.

Daddy’s inactivity frustrates Mother. She spent one entire afternoon sweating in the yard while Daddy rotated between the computer and couch. He wandered outside twice to ask Mother a couple questions: “Lynn, do we have any chocolate sauce I can put on this ice cream?” –and– “Lynn. The dogs and I want to know what we’re having for supper.”

Daddy goes to the gym with Mother three days a week and constantly reads – but no one can read all day, and Daddy doesn’t retain much material. After watching a movie, he can’t recall the title or plot. What, then, would bring him fulfillment day to day?

When I call to ask Daddy how he’s doing, he always says, “I’m great! I’ve got a beautiful wife, two wonderful daughters and perfect pets.” I wonder how much he means that. In my world, Daddy is a husband and father, but his existence expands beyond his familial role.

While a substantial part of our purpose is to love and be loved, we need more on which to stand alone. I hope Daddy’s ambitions somehow will shift from the noise of a carpet mill to the quiet of home.

What’re you gonna do? Send us to Vietnam?

May 3, 2012

The doctor who prescribed Daddy’s medications told him not to drink alcohol. I question whether he needs to become a complete teetotaler or curb his spirit consumption to one or two libations a couple times a week. I understand that some drugs intensify the effect of alcohol beyond manageable means; for example, after mixing half a Yuengling with Xanax one night, I nearly passed out at concert venue The Earl. But I have experienced no problems pairing snobby liquors with my daily SSRI. So I wish Mother would ask the doctor if Daddy can have a beer every few days.

When I met Mother and Daddy at the Acworth Art Fest a few weekends ago, we ate lunch together on the Acworth Square.

“Can I get a Blue Moon?” Daddy inquired after we had slid into our booths.

“No,” Mother said.

“Oh come on, ONE BEER isn’t going to kill him,” I argued.

“The doctor said your daddy can’t have alcohol.”

“But it’s just a beer. Get the beer, Daddy.”

“I might,” he tested the waters.

“I don’t want anything to happen to your daddy,” Mother defended her stance.

“I know. Fine. But ask the doctor if one freaking beer is that big a deal.”

Daddy never has drank heavily around me, but I’ve always associated bottles of wine with dinner guests and laughter over political topics that bored me as a child. He used to hide a jumbo jar of white lightning in the pantry with the wine glasses and bottle openers. In seventh grade my friend dared me to taste it. I nearly threw up from the smell but gulped it anyway, spewing it everywhere once it hit my lips. Then I witnessed and respected Daddy’s prudence and self control; on Thanksgiving, he mixed a dash of the pungent liquid in a mug of Mother’s orange wassail, offering a splash to my uncles as well – enough to add some color to their cheeks.

Mother usually gave Daddy a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream every Christmas and left it in plain sight on the counter. In my early teens I went through a phase of adding it to my sweet tea when no one was looking. Baileys suited my palate more than moonshine.

I guess Daddy curbed his drinking after retiring from the Army and marrying Mother. Off to war on a plane, Daddy and his fellow Rangers took shots of Scotch, not surprisingly getting the stewardess’ attention.

“Excuse me, you can’t have alcohol on this flight,” she said.

“What’re you gonna do? Send us to Vietnam?” Daddy asked. I assume the stewardess left them alone.

One might contend that Daddy shouldn’t be allowed beer because he probably wouldn’t remember it a couple hours later. But I would hate to deprive him of the transient joy of opening a cold Yuengling or Red Stripe or his latest favorite Blue Moon, and savoring the first tingling sip through the last flat warm drop.

I think a lot of people with Alzheimer’s have to live largely in the moment. I’m trying to revel in my time with Daddy now and embrace the present, too. If I sit on the front porch and share a Blue Moon with Daddy, he could forget it a half hour later. But the immediacy of a mutual brew with my dad while we look out over the pasture would bring us both joy as we imbibe. I believe if given the choice, Daddy would rather have the experience than not at all.

I regularly contribute to the Lynn Wages Yard Maintenance Fund.

April 30, 2012

One of the first mental functions to deteriorate during the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s disease is the ability to manage money. On Christmas Eve night, my father walked around the living room handing envelopes of cash to each of us – a gesture indeed kind but also disturbing. Daddy always has met our financial needs and treated us generously on Christmas and our Birthdays, but never has given us money. Mother accepted her envelope with teary gratitude.

Alzheimer’s sufferers also often contribute large sums to telemarketers. Daddy has started donating to various veterans organizations, particularly for those who are disabled. I am revolted by these groups who take advantage of the very people they claim to want to help. I find it counterintuitive at best and dishonest at worst. Mother recently caught Daddy offering his credit card number to a telemarketer over the phone, and frantically stopped the recitation of numbers before he finished. Daddy seems to remember that giving his credit card number out is inappropriate, and agrees to mail checks as an alternative. I wonder if Daddy’s largesse can be partially attributed to not remembering how much he has pledged and to whom.

Mother brought up Daddy’s newfound beneficence when I met them at Habersham Gardens this weekend. Daddy waited on a bench under the August-hot sun while Mother browsed patio furniture and succulents. Her reaction to a vast selection of Black-eyed Susan varieties is similar to my behavior when I approach the Anthropologie sale rack. I wanted to drive Mother and Daddy to the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh just a few minutes away, so Daddy could stock up on chili dogs at that location instead of the one in Kennesaw – on their way home but still an annoying stop off the interstate. Sadly, the Lindbergh Varsity has closed. I suggested I sit with them at Souper Jenny for a late lunch instead, and they could score a box of dogs for Daddy’s dinner.

“We mailed in two more pledges today,” Mother sighed while stabbing a quinoa-coated fava bean.

“To who?” I asked.

“Veterans organizations. There are millions of them.”

“Not that many,” Daddy corrected her.

“We have given so…much…money to these people,” Mother rolled her eyes.

“That’s nice of you, Daddy,” I said.

“I regularly contribute to the Lynn Wages Yard Maintenance Fund. The donations are endless.”

“Huh-huh-huhhh,” Mother fake chuckled.

“I would say I support you.”

“You do,” Mother conceded.

On the way back to the car, we passed several flowerbeds.

“Oh. My. Gosh,” Mother screeched to a halt. “Look at this rehmannia.” A clump of pink bell-shaped blooms demanded our attention.

“It’s from Romania,” Daddy said.

“I just love it. I can never find it at nurseries,” Mother ignored him.

“Look at that stump,” Daddy said, pointing to the remains of a tree.

“Ugh. Rehmannia is also called a Chinese foxglove,” Mother continued.

“I mean, the angle on that stump is amazing,” Daddy carried on. The stump admittedly protruded with a postmodern slant.

When our walk resumed, I thought about how Daddy took me to lunch at Souper Jenny a couple times when I worked in Buckhead in the mid 2000s. I basked in sort of experiencing those moments again. Then I pondered Daddy’s comeback to Mother: “I would say I support you.” Considering all of his sacrifices to take care of us, I think it’s time for us to be buttresses for Daddy.

I will regularly contribute to the Robert Wages Mental Maintenance Fund. The compassion will be endless.

Look at what they’re wearing. Bless their hearts…

April 23, 2012

The other day during my lunch break I dashed across the street to Quiznos to pick up a sandwich. However, a gaggle of religious fanatics donning Quaker style attire blocked my path. As one woman fluttered her eyelashes from beneath her lace bonnet offering me a CD containing devotional melodies, I ducked and ran. On the way back to the office, I sprinted around them in the shape of a semicircle. Downtown Atlanta disciples seem particularly zealous, especially the man who sets up shop outside Woodruff Park. One afternoon he transitioned from screaming at all pedestrians to singling me out.

“You think you’re so cool in your heels and your little skirt and your SHADES!!!” he yelled, leaning toward me when I passed him. I stopped, lowered my vintage Christian Dior sunglasses and glared, then veered diagonally toward popsicle vendor King of Pops.

The Quiznos evangelists reminded me of a carful of Jehovah’s Witnesses who crept all the way down my parents’ half-mile driveway one peaceful Saturday morning. Mother, Daddy, Timber and I sat on the front porch reading and chatting, but froze when the group of women stepped out of their white Tercel wearing peasant dresses of the most modest of fabrics. They clomped up the hill and across the sidewalk, rustling the monkey grass with their skirts.

“Excuse me, I was hopin’ we could talk to you this mornin’ about God,” one of them whispered at the foot of the steps.

“We know God good ‘n’ well,” Daddy spoke for us. “But thank ye.”

The women pivoted in unison and made their awkward trek back to their car.

“My goodness, look at what they’re wearing!” Mother loudly gasped within their earshot. “Bless their hearts…”

Daddy never has pushed religion on me. When I turned 16, he told me I didn’t have to come to church anymore.

“You’re old enough to make yer own choices. You can figure it out fer yerself.”

I continued attending Baptist services with my parents until I graduated high school and explored various worship options while in college, including Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist and a sweat lodge hosted by a local medicine man. (Well, I almost drowned crossing a river on the way to the sweat lodge, so I gave up and went home.) Daddy intervened in my spiritual affairs only once, when I became crippled by morosity in sixth grade. I suddenly became aware of the large age gap between my friends’ and my parents. While my mother turned 37 two days after birthing me, many of my peers’ mothers only recently had rung in “the big three-oh.” Paralyzed with fear, I worried that my parents would die a decade or two before everyone else’s. During softball try-outs, I surveyed my classmates on their own anxieties surrounding death.

“Do you, like, worry your parents are going to die one day?” I asked my friend Beth while tossing her a softball.

“No.”

“But they will.”

“It’s not something I think about. That’s forever away.”

I kept fretting over the meaning of life. Everything in my bedroom stared at me emptily. The dresser squinted in cruelty; the hardwood floors, covered in transient cat fur and dust; the curtains, devoid of permanence or purpose.

After playing at my neighbor’s house one weekend, her father drove me home in his green truck.

“Mr. Meadows, what is the point of living?”

“To glorify God.”

His answer depressed me even more.

Mother had to pull me out of school a couple times and contacted the minister who married her and Daddy for advice. At one point she made me talk to him on the phone; his cookie cutter insistence that my parents’ memory will live forever exacerbated my sadness. He also suggested I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, a book I didn’t touch until age 21. I wonder if and how it would have helped.

I truly believe that Daddy arranged a special sermon for me the following Sunday, delivered by our church’s young associate pastor G. He made a lot of the same points as my mother’s friend, but I had a crush on him and therefore took his claims to heart.

Weeks later G portrayed Jesus in the congregation’s Easter play – a gruesome portrayal of the crucifixion in the fellowship hall. As he realistically hanged from a cross, I stared at his sinewy arms and trim torso, covered by a slight piece of cloth. While everyone around me wept, I drooled.

I don’t visit that church often anymore but go with Daddy on holidays that are important to him, like Christmas and Father’s Day. We recently attended the Easter service, just the two of us. I almost began blubbering like my 11-year-old self during the hymn of benediction, sort of for the same moribund reason as I did back then. But instead of crying, I leaned my head on Daddy’s coat sleeve, closed my eyes and savored the moment.

It reminds me of being in Vietnam.

April 19, 2012
Daddy in 1969.

In addition to misdiagnosing Daddy with depression, the doctor partially attributed his memory loss to posttraumatic stress disorder. Daddy served on the 173rd Airborne Brigade Separate during the Vietnam War and understandably carries psychological scars. For a long time after he and Mother got married, he slept with a gun. Plus, surviving ground combat and jumping out of airplanes influenced Daddy to embrace religion. He promised God that if he made it out alive, he would become a dedicated Christian. As part of that pact, he vowed never to kill another living being again and gave up hunting as well.

After my father’s initial visit with the doctor, my sister Timber remained convinced that Daddy’s symptoms could be attributed to something more serious than depression: symptoms like an inability to distinguish direction, disorientation of time and great anxiety over being separated from my mother. The doctor’s pride superseded the admission of a mistake and delayed proper treatment for months.

As I mentioned in a prior post, Daddy has been selected for a study at Emory that will equip him with memory-building strategies. The first and fifth sessions are supposed to include an MRI without sedation. However, Daddy can’t endure the procedure sans medication.

“It reminds me of being in Vietnam,” he told me.

“Why?”

“I feel like I’m getting mortared.”

Daddy attempted to tolerate the initial MRI but immediately got out of the machine. The MRI portion of the study is helpful but fortunately not required.

In spring 2009 I watched Daddy get inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame. He keeps in touch with many Army buddies as well as contacts made through Camp Frank D. Merrill, the U.S. Mountain Ranger Association and Fort Benning. An immediate unspoken bond connects him to strangers wearing Army Ranger t-shirts or driving with Airborne decals on their vehicles. Once while Daddy trailed behind Mother at craft store Michaels in Kennesaw, he spotted a man with wings on his cap.

“HOOAH!” Daddy hollered, crouching in front of the man near the autumn garlands.

“HOOAH!” he hollered back, jiggling a shelf of orange and yellow leaves.

“Hooah!”

“Hooah!” they continued as Mother browsed the ceramic turkeys.

During a recent visit home I lay in bed with Daddy and viewed Heartbreak Ridge on the Military Channel. Watching Clint Eastwood kick someone’s ass in prison didn’t seem to conjure memories that would exacerbate PTSD. Reclining under the quilt with Daddy felt like childhood and my old pets and like everything was all right.

I’m not as lost as you think I am.

April 17, 2012

The weekend Ryan and I got engaged coincided with my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. In recognition of the milestone, they stayed at the Kingwood Resort in Clayton, Georgia, where they also spent their honeymoon in 1971. Ryan proposed to me on Dockery Lake, located in a lovely section of the Chattahoochee National Forest that offers refreshingly little cell phone service. Once we returned to the Dahlonega square and had ordered drinks at Irish pub Shenanigan’s to celebrate, I called my parents to share the news.

“Heeee!” Mother squealed.

“Who’s she engaged to?” I heard Daddy ask in the background.

In retrospect, Ryan wonders if Daddy’s question was genuine, instead of dripping with his typical sarcasm. After all, Mother finally accepted that something was seriously wrong with Daddy during their anniversary excursion, beyond the doctor’s shoddy diagnosis of depression. Daddy’s anxiety peaked during Christmas per the fear of not knowing the cause of his memory loss. He has calmed down since receiving a real diagnosis, and his very short-term memory even seems to have improved.

Even though I’m taking an antidepressant, I’m struggling with the realization that Daddy has Alzheimer’s disease, and that he won’t enjoy the retirement he deserves. My psychiatrist warned me to watch out for a flatline of emotion, and at first I worried I physically couldn’t cry anymore. But the past several weeks confirmed that I have not become an emotional zombie. Proof includes obviously crying as well as driving down Boulevard while beating my steering wheel and screaming to God that it isn’t fair.

A cloud shrouded me when Daddy forgot Ryan’s last name.  Then a couple weeks later he asked me a disturbing question.

“Aren’t we having a reception for you?”

“What?” I jolted.

“I thought we were having a reception for you or something…”

“You mean my wedding?”

“Oh yeah. That makes sense.”

I bit my lip and laughed it off, but mentioned it to Mother later.

“He’s just confused, Bobbin. They are throwing him a retirement reception at work.”

Figuring this is the new reality, I assumed Daddy needed to be reminded I’m getting married when I convened with him and Mother at the Acworth Art Fest this weekend. Our close family friends John John and Penny sold their work at the show, and when we reached their booth I asked if they had received their Save the Date postcard yet.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?” I asked Daddy.

“Yer weddin’,” he puffed his chest.

“Golly!” John John guffawed, patting Daddy on the shoulder.

“I’m not as lost as you think I am,” Daddy notified me.

At one point we traipsed through downtown Acworth in search of a suitable place to eat lunch. Daddy spotted a man wearing a Georgia Tech t-shirt on a bench. (Daddy attended North Georgia College but fully supports his childhood best friend’s alma mater.)

“I like your shirt,” Daddy complimented the man. “You must be a good person and the president of an important comp’ny.”

“Thank you,” he laughed.

We passed the man again on the way out from Fusco’s.

“I like your shirt!” Daddy pointed at the yellow jacket logo. The man chuckled.

I wonder if Daddy commented on the shirt a second time for comedic effect, or if he forgot seeing it just an hour earlier.

I am comforted to know that Daddy still has a lot of wit but remain fearful of the disease’s progression. I’ll continue to worry about breaking down when he gives me away at the wedding.

I read an applicable Khalil Gibran quote on my friend Karen Shacham’s blog:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

At my next psychiatric appointment I’ll let my doctor know I have become calmer but not less emotional. As always I am a pendulum of sorrow and joy. If I cry when Daddy walks me down the aisle, I guess I can look at the tears as an expression of happiness either way.

Thelma Jean Perón

April 10, 2012

In fall 2009 the family Yorkie disappeared. We think a coyote snatched Willow during a storm. In her old age Willow began tinkling around the house, and not knowing what else to do, Mother had put her out and fallen asleep before the rain started. Not even a month later my coworker J mentioned that she needed to find a home for her two West Highland terriers Ozzie and Obi. Despite J’s adoration for the dogs, her husband demanded she give them away, particularly since J was pregnant. When I asked Mother and Daddy if they would be interested in adopting the Westies, they reluctantly agreed.

Aware of J’s devastation over losing her pets, Mother convinced her to keep Ozzie, easing part of the simultaneous stress of caring for a high-energy terrier and newborn. On an October Saturday afternoon, I rode with Mother to pick up Obi at my coworker’s house; Mother cried on the way home in sympathy for J, who released Obi with red eyes and shaking arms. Mother’s sadness quickly dissipated when we arrived home and Obi apprehensively tiptoed out of his crate. She immediately started speaking in baby talk and praised Obi’s perfection.

“Fuch a fweet doggie,” Mother always coos while burying her face in Obi’s snowflake fur.

“He’s precious,” Daddy dryly responds.

Obi accompanies Mother everywhere – even when she works outside in her flowerbeds – and sleeps between my parents.

“Never in a million years I thought we’d be sleepin’ with a dawg,” Daddy huffs.

Daddy walks Winston.

Daddy walks Winston.

Jealous of the attention Obi had stolen, Daddy randomly adopted a Scottish terrier a few days before Christmas in 2010. He showed up with the shaggy puppy a couple hours before some holiday dinner guests were scheduled to arrive.

“His name is Winston,” Daddy announced while the dog peed on the kitchen floor.

Mother said she would allow Daddy to keep Winston if he house-trained him and gave him attention; Daddy failed to follow through on either promise. At the time he was able to work and often pulled 12-hour shifts. Sleep and church filled all his spare time. So Winston follows Mother (his caregiver) everywhere, too, still leaving Daddy dogless.

Daddy last connected with a dog in the late ’90s. One Saturday he came roaring up the driveway in his rickety Jeep Cherokee with a red heeler puppy.

“Y’all always git to name the dawgs. I’m namin’ this dawg,” he insisted.

“What’re you gonna call ‘er?” I asked.

“Thelma Jean Perón.” Daddy’s pronunciation of “Perón” resembled anything but Spanish. It sounded like “PAY-rone.”

My preschool Sunday School teacher Thelma Wood inspired the dog’s first name. Jean came out of nowhere. And Daddy threw in Perón because the family recently had watched Evita in the theater. Mother purchased the soundtrack and blasted it through the house while cooking or doing the dishes. Equally amped up by Madonna’s and Antonio Banderas’ performances, Daddy sang musical selections from the film every morning in the shower. He warmed up with a macho, descending scale.

“BWAAA,” he began, lowering the pitch to “BWAAAAAA,” still lowering and extending the length to “BWAAAAAAAAA,” continuing to lower the pitch until he couldn’t sustain the note. “Bwa. Aa. Aa. Aa. Aa,” he weakly throated. Mother, Timber and I jumbled in front of the bathroom door, biting our arms so Daddy wouldn’t hear us laughing.

Pairing his affection for the new dog with his Evita serenades, Daddy transformed the chorus to “And the Money Kept Rolling In” into an ode to Thelma Perón. Instead of hollering “money, money, money” in tune, he replaced the lyrics with “Thelma, Thelma, Thelma.”

What we thought would be the Thelma Perón era ended too soon. A few months after Daddy adopted Thelma, Timber and I were chatting with Mother beside the house while she watered a wilting potato vine. Daddy had bolted down the driveway to check the mail, Thelma bustling behind him.

Daddy returned holding a bill, the Wall Street Journal and Thelma’s collar.

“Well,” Daddy started. “A BM-dubya just came by an’ hit Thelma.” None of us even turned around.

“Very funny, Robert,” Mother exhaled, flinging hose water toward a neglected patch of fern.

“Somebody really hit ‘er. Killed ‘er and kept on drivin’,” Daddy continued.

“Really, Robert?” Mother pivoted toward him.

“Yup. Phoo,” he spit tobacco. “Really.” Head high, Daddy traipsed back up the hill, dropping Thelma’s collar by one of his Jeep’s rear tires.

I wish Daddy had a dog to help him cope with the many unknowns that lie ahead. I know how important Obi is to Mother, now more than ever. Perhaps Winston will grow more attached to Daddy since he has retired. Singing “Don’t Cry for Me Winstontina” in the shower might be a good first step.