Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Eating with Alzheimer's

From the minute I kiss my children goodbye and set them on the bus, I'm in a race against the clock.  I have 6 hours to train clients, exercise, write blog posts, edit my book, and read.  Every minute is precious.  Each is exquisite, filled with the promise of achievement, perhaps even brilliance.

I don't want to waste them.

So, I usually work through my lunch.  I make a sandwich, sit down at the table, and continue my race, glancing at the clock every now and then, to gauge my success.  My mind works quickly against the hands of the clock, trying to beat yesterday's level of achievement.

Yesterday was different.

I went to the kitchen, my mind on a meeting I have this Friday.  I began to search through the refrigerator when I turned to see my Dad.  He was loitering at the counter, brushing it with his hand as if wiping away crumbs.

"Have you had lunch, Dad?"

Dad gesticulated in response.  His hands fluttered in harmony with the gentle breeze blowing in the window. "N-n-n-ooo."

"I'll make you something."

Before long I had a plate of tuna melts in front of my Dad.  I added some strawberries and warmed up his coffee.  The dog settled at his feet and licked his lips, anticipating the sweet taste of human food, which would surely make its way to the floor.  Dad fumbled with his lunch, trying to eat it with a knife.

"Look, Dad.  Your fork is here."  I picked it up and showed him.  Then I slipped into the seat next to him.  Dad can't talk much, so I began rambling about how delicious my lunch was, which was true.  As I watched him struggle to eat it, I apologized about it's messiness.  Then I sat with Dad, in silence.

The quiet noise of movement filled the kitchen.  Utensils clinked on porcelain plates.  The dog licked his jowls.  Dad chewed his food hungrily, then stopped from time to time to wipe his mouth, blow his nose, or retrieve a piece of food that fell to his lap.

I'd decided to sit with Dad and "be" with him.  But I looked at him and realized he was not there.  How long had he been gone?  Every now and then Dad laughs, or he shows a glimmer in his eye that mirrors the man I know as my father.  But usually Dad is not there.  He's retreated deep into himself.

I do not know if my restraint, my effort not to bury myself in work, mattered to my Dad.  I wondered, as I sat there, if he noticed or cared about my presence.

But I realized it mattered to me.  At that moment, I knew I wanted to be with, recognize, and minister to this beautiful yet broken man, my dad.

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