My father was a storyteller. His head held memories of a lifetime. So much joy and some sorrow too, it seemed he never forgot anything. He loved to laugh and share the tales of his mischievous youth and didn’t mind sometimes letting out some of the deeper stories too, those painful memories that made him.
I used to love hearing how he and some of the other boys rigged up the firecrackers in Uncle Jake’s old farm truck, thinking that their cousin was going to be the one using the truck that day. His eyes would just sparkle as he laughed talking about how fast they ran and hid when Uncle Jake jumped out of that truck swearing mad and ready to get whoever had played that trick.
Sometimes there were other stories too. I remember once Dad told me about working on the neighbor’s farm as a young man. He’d skipped one day. I don’t remember why, if he was sick or just in a teenage moment of not wanting to work, but he skipped that day and it changed his world. His co-worker was driving the farm truck. If Dad had been there he would have been in the truck too. The young man backed up the truck not seeing the farmer’s young child behind him. The little one, maybe three or four years old, was killed. Dad never forgave himself for missing work that day. He always wondered if he had been there, would he have seen the child?
Stories, stories, so many stories, they tell us who we are. Dad is still with us, but the stories are gone or at least they are jumbled and confused. Having a parent with dementia is hard. Having a parent with dementia during the times of COVID-19 is even harder.
My father lives in a memory care unit and, like most facilities now, is not allowed visitors. His recognition of people over the phone is non-existent and video calling doesn’t make sense to him, so it is as if he is both here and not here at the same time. It is almost a preparation for his passing to have him in this world and yet not be able to reach him in any way.
I called him for Easter. I knew the phone might be a challenge, but I had to try. I couldn’t leave him alone for the holiday. The staff person told me he was sleepy, but she’d take the phone to him in the dining area. I could hear her explaining to him that he had a phone call, then explaining to him that the thing she was sharing with him was a phone. She told him to hold it to his ear and to say hello. I said “Hi Dad, it’s Amy. I just wanted to call you to say Happy Easter and to tell you that I love you.” I hoped that hearing my voice would help him understand and that he would say something. He said nothing.
The staff person came back on the phone and apologized to me saying that it seemed he just didn’t understand what the phone was. I told her it was okay and asked that she just let him know that I called and just to tell him Happy Easter and the family loves him.
I wish I could be there just to hold his hand. I got to hold his hand at Christmas time when he cried because he wanted to go see his mother. It broke my heart to hold the hand of my 91 year old father and tell him that grandma wasn’t with us anymore, but now all I have is the hope that he can join her soon and leave his confusion and sorrow behind, that hope and the stories of a lifetime.