In the End I Treated Dad Like a Dog
Alzheimer’s can seem like a very sad disease. My Dad and Grandmother had it for the same eight years.
As I visited them, I could see their brains losing their connections. Their brains were unlearning things in the reverse order they learned them. It was like the clock was moving their brains backwards, but no one had notified their bodies.
I remember the day I visited Grandma and offered to read from the latest large print Reader’s Digest to her. She cheerily said I was welcome to read, but that she would forget what was at the top of the page by the time I reached the bottom.
What to talk about?
I couldn’t discuss things that happened in the past due to memory loss. I couldn’t talk about the future because they couldn’t imagine that. It brought me down to just… now.
Dad and Grandma were my teachers on how to be present.
I can’t say I was a very good student. There was a lot of wondering what to say. I struggled with what to do while I was with them
And the inevitable question…. would I want to live in that condition if it were me.
And then one visit it occurred to me. When someone sits with a dog, and just enjoys him, and that dog leans it’s head into your hand and just wants to be with you, then just be still. And enjoy. That’s a special moment. You might even get a little panting and smiling and stretching in the sun. That’s when life is good. Just being together sharing that wordlessness. That’s way more than enough. That’s the good stuff. The deep stuff. The stuff that gives the foundation of meaning to our lives.
No one would ever question if a dog should still be around just because he couldn’t remember fetching a stick with you when he was a puppy.
I grieved the person I lost while Dad was still alive, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy who he had become.
I just didn’t necessarily enjoy him in the same way.
Here’s what worked for me:
Treat them like a dog… in the best possible sense. Be with them in the way that words and history don’t demand of man’s best friend. Be OK with being still within yourself, enjoy it, and you will find a powerful connection. One that transcends all the words and history that sometimes gets in the way of pure joy.
Dad was my first mindfulness teacher.
Still practicing, Dad, but I’m getting there.