Wisdom//

What My Fathers Dementia Taught Me About Savouring The Moment

We need to stop rushing into our future and learn to savour each moment and the gifts this brings.

I never said goodbye.

No one disappeared from my life, in fact, everything externally seems the same, but everything is different.

I never said goodbye to the security blanket that you had always been. A cosy, warm, dependable, and loyal blanket, made from the purest wool, the most exquisite cashmere. That was how cushioned I felt in your constant unfailing presence.

Although still living, part of my father disappeared slowly, crept through the back door and I never saw it resurface again.

Present in a physical form, but now a shadow of his former self. I never said goodbye to our long conversations whilst sitting to enjoy a pot of tea, leading to an outpouring of wisdom and advice handed out at a minute’s notice.

The word “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” was thrown into the conversation quickly and in a way, we disassociated from it should we linger on that word any longer, it might stick, might affect my father, like saying the word made it contagious or sticky somehow.

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, surely not?

My father, a man with the strength of character, the gentle and humble warrior, the man that has carried a truckload of wisdom and fed it through to me over the years. The man who has inspired my stories.

How could that source that powered life like an atomic energy station, how could his light diminish?

Who had the audacity to take this part of him away without consulting me first?

In the moments when I feel a sense of positivity, I imagine it must be kind of freeing for those who are living it; a sense of peace as they’re no longer holding onto resentments, anger, or past recriminations; these have all been wiped out. 

But for the family members watching aloft, gaping eyed whilst observing the person in front of them disintegrate, it’s heartbreaking.

Trying to communicate and relate to what has become an almost empty shell. Still full of love, and occasional laughter, no longer as often, but boy when it happens it’s so deliciously precious.

I never said goodbye to the person he was previously, to welcome the man he has become. 

Life has a way of keeping you too busy to notice what’s in front of you.

I spent so long denying there were any changes, that by the time they were undeniably evident, it was too late. Those conversations I should have had, those ideas I could have shared, that connection that I could have taken further; is no longer possible.

We never scheduled a mutual farewell, the transition into a new relationship. The one where we have now swapped roles; me as your carer, and you as the one cared for.

What has stood in its place is the repetition of questions, a vacant look, a confused glance, and yet he notices the slightest of details. How there is a piece of thread coming out of my skirt, the fact that he likes my sweater. His role as a father rises up like foam when threatened; it’s only slightly momentary, but it happens.

This gives me solace that he is still my father.

In contrast, I watch my daughters race out of the house, reluctant to hear my stories and ideas, their eyes trace the ceiling in frustration, they’ve heard all my sermons once before. They don’t have time to sit and talk for long; they have a life and future to catch up to. I remember feeling the same when my father stopped me in my tracks.

How I wish I had the opportunity to ask him to retell those stories however many times he chose to. At the time I was too busy to listen, and now that I’m ready to, he no longer remembers them.

In the age of rising businesses, seven-figure incomes, success beckoning, no one can dismiss that we all have personal lives.  Elderly parents, children, siblings, grandparents, a life beyond business that we need to attend to, and this grounds us into a reality that no one can escape.

At times, I feel as if our constant busyness deludes us unto believing that we have some control over life, that if only we made enough money, became more successful, got more likes on social media, we could hold back the inevitable. 

That we could somehow kid ourselves into believing we have the monopoly on life.

We don’t.

Having volunteered and spoken to people at the end of life who had previously been successful, powerful, wealthy with their world at their feet is enbelievably humbling.

They can’t escape the beginnings of Parkinson’s, crippled with dementia and terminal diagnosis, they only yearn to come home, to those they love, nothing else matters. 

This article is not meant to be depressing, it’s meant to wake you up. 

Stop rushing into your future. Slow down, breathe, pace yourself, love more deeply, listen more profoundly, stop more often to reflect, notice and speak to others around you. Make a difference, however small, especially to those who are at the periphery of your community.

I would encourage you to experience life more deeply right here right now. You don’t have to trail Machu Picchu or the Himalayas to show your living fully or dreaming big. 

At the end of life, no one will care how many friends you’ve made on Facebook, or be preoccupied with taking the perfect selfie. What will matter is your contribution to the world you lived in. What you created and the legacy you have left behind. Whether it’s the children that you churn out, the businesses you create, or the articles that you’ve written.

Although my father is unable to make a difference nowadays since he is barely mobile; the legacy he has created is still in motion. 

Like a creator who can now sit back and watch passively as the children he co-created continue the work he taught us. There are three incredible generations filled with writers, musicians, educations and creators that have emerged from this man and my wonderful mother.

That is how making a difference can transcend across generations.

Like throwing a pebble in the water, it creates ripples which reverberate across the surface of the water well beyond where the pebble was thrown.

In the end, it’s not about having a monopoly on life, but about being engaged with life. To do so we need to stop rushing into our future because savouring each moment brings with it gifts that are too multiplicious to mention.

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