By Becky Andrews
I don’t like change. Wait. Let me rephrase that. Some change is necessary. Dirty diapers, blown lightbulbs, oil, underwear and so on. I’m talking about big change. Like the transition from high school to college, single to married, or how you felt after Glenn from The Walking Dead died but in a later episode it turns out he didn’t die (still totally blown away by this!). It’s the kind that shifts the trajectory of how you live your life.
Change, no matter how necessary, is mysterious, uncertain and uncomfortable. Who wants to be uncomfortable?
I changed my tune in 2012-the year my dad was diagnosed with mixed dementia. One week, he would be fine and have us wondering if maybe the physicians got it wrong. The next week, he would tell a room full of strangers that the night before he had to beat up Ross Perot because he caught him trying to rob a woman in the Kroger parking lot. “She offered me money because I helped, but I said, ‘that won’t be necessary.’”
Change for someone in the throes of this disease is monumental. Routine is key. For nearly four years, we managed to keep his routine, his life predictable. Then one day last fall we had to prepare him for something HUGE.
After in-depth cognitive tests at an area specialty center revealed dad lacked skills to operate a car safely, the state took away his driver’s license. Three months later, my brothers, sisters and I made the tough decision to sell his car.
On Christmas Eve, I had to drive his car to the new owners. That morning, while everyone slept and the coffee brewed, I cried. I wasn’t crying because my kids didn’t want to leave cookies for Santa or because I miss my brother and sister who live on the west coast. I wasn’t crying because I can’t lose weight as easily as I could in my 20’s. I was crying because Alzheimer’s had once again managed to steal something else from my dad.
More than anything, dad doesn’t want to burden his kids. In his mind, losing his license and selling his car signaled the end of “independent Ralphie” and the beginning of “dependent Ralphie.”
We sold the car and everyone survived. Of course, our routines were shaken up a bit and it wasn’t easy. But changes are getting easier for him. Most days he can’t recall what he’s confused about or why he doesn’t drive anymore. That’s a silver lining for him.
Last week, while dad was working a crossword puzzle, I couldn’t help but to stare at him. I thought about how lucky we were that dementia had softened him. He’s always been kind but now his kindness is childlike. As much as I loved his more tender demeanor, I missed his bluntness and brutal honesty. At that moment, he looked up from his crossword and said, “You should take off that lipstick. People will think you’re a prostitute.” And that, my friends, is a silver lining for me.
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