Never Goodbye

Navigating the Journey through Dementia

Photo after heavy rains flooded the lake taken by our neighbor Brenda

It wasn’t until after the year 2000 that Dad’s little world showed more severe signs of breaking down. After the excitement of Y2K wore off, lack of new excitement took its toll. Once again I got the call that Brad had stolen coins and Dad was going to call the police to report it. I listened, acknowledging his claims and booked a weekend flight to leave within two days. Meanwhile Dad would hold off on going to the police.

My flight landed in Birmingham, Alabama. I rented a car and drove up the freeway, finally arriving at the country road that led to the private lane winding its way to Dad’s lake house. When Mom and Dad bought the property, you had to hike through acres of woods to reach the lake. Blazing their own trail, my mom and dad, a couple in their sixties, cleared the trees and carved their road in the wilderness. The road and house nestled in the trees was a reflection of their strong wills and their new beginning–the sunset years.

With each arrival, I relive their story and memories rush to mind of their new life on the lake. In my mind I see the sun hitting their metal Airstream trailer, which was their home for several years while the house went up beam by beam.

During this stay, my son Brad came over and my Dad’s worries and confusions were put to rest. I had a nice weekend visit, and for the time being his cry for companionship seemed satisfied.

September 11th 2001, struck deeply. I was in Italy at the time, and the devastation from that atrocity pulled our family together. The tragedy of 9/11 instilled a fear of flying in everyone. However, in order to return to the US, I was forced to overcome that fear.

I crossed the Atlantic on a British Airways plane and landed safely at LAX. Having bested my fear, a month later in October, I convinced my husband Ken to fly with me to visit my dad. Incidents like 9/11 remind us of how precious life is. You take stock and make time for important endeavors. We spent time with Dad and Brad.

In June 2002 I planned a trip to visit Dad with my daughter Ericka, my grandson Trenton, and my newborn granddaughter Alyssa. Our timing worked out perfectly because during our stay my father had scheduled surgery to remove a skin cancer on his head. It was an out-patient procedure, and he needed someone to drive him to the hospital and back.

We arrived late at night, drove up from Birmingham to my dad’s house, let ourselves in and went to sleep. The next morning as I was waking up I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamed my dad was twisted up, hanging horizontally between clotheslines and choking to death.

In the dream, I held him up so he wouldn’t choke and called for Brad to help. For me, dreams have often been a bizarre window to reality.

When I walked into Dad’s bedroom to greet him “good morning” I noticed a mess of papers scattered all over his floor. There was barely anywhere to walk. With a look of overwhelming despair, he said to me, “See this confused mess? Now I know why people commit suicide–to escape the confusion.”

At that moment I realized, a weekend visit or a week of vacation wasn’t going to adequately solve what was plaguing my father.

His surgery on the skin cancer went fine, but his mind wasn’t right. I had never seen him so irrational and forgetful. When I returned to California I discussed my dad’s situation with Ken and my business partner Vicki. We all agreed that Dad needed me. I started making arrangements to return.

While getting my plans in order, Dad called saying Brad had stolen coins again, and this time he feared Brad was trying to kill him. I asked why he thought that. He explained that Brad had invited him to go on vacation with his family to the Florida Gulf Coast. Routinely, every year Brad and his family took a vacation there. This was the first year that they had invited my dad to go too. Filled with suspicion over the unexpected invitation, my dad decided they were plotting to poison him while on vacation. I rushed to book my flight and left.

Dad was clearly slipping into deeper and deeper waters, well over his head.