It is my home, my neighborhood, and my history. It is what I am and where I came from. Embarrassing? Yes Boring? Never

Friday, June 13, 2008

The 10 most important lessons I have learned ,were from a man with Alzheimer’s.

10. Childhood fears carry throughout your life.-- All we could figure was he must have been cold as a child. He had wood stored in two sheds, a garage, a basement and every nook and cranny you could find. He would build fires in the fireplace, even on warm days. I used to think of him and his brothers scrapping together wood for fires to keep warm in a home that was continuously cold to the heart. I watch my children for their fears and can see it in my friends. It is that fear that constantly will haunt them, and knowing that fear will always help you understand them and yourself. We all have stacks of firewood ready for the cold in some way or another.

9. Don’t ‘water’ plants with Gasoline - Although it seems as if this is a lesson I should not have had to learn, but it is actually note worthy if a) they are not your plants and the person who loves the plants will want to replace your water with gasoline and / or b) if you have a daughter who goes outside to smoke and nearly incinerates herself with the lighting of one match.

8. It is wonderful to hear “I love you.”- He never said it ,not once, until the disease hit. I could not get enough. I would say it and he would say it back every time, with all the warmth and adulation that the words were created for. I realized how powerful it is, I say it all the time to my children, maybe they think I am silly now, but I want them not to just ‘know’ it, I want them to hear it, remember me saying it. I say it to everyone I love as often as I can, because I want them to hear me say it. Because that makes it real.

7. Don’t play with Cheaters.- There were signs he was becoming ill. He played poker almost every day of his life. He loved it. He loved to gamble, on horses, dogs, what color Mr. Roger’s sweater would be, just about anything. But he was having a bad streak. Then he caught them. I can count on one hand the times I saw him mad, and this one was the biggest. He had the cards, he had the proof, and he never forgave them, he never understood it. It taught me that cheating, not playing by the rules, was just about the worst thing you could do. I have never forgotten.

6. Home is the most important place in your life -towards the end it was getting worse, and my sister put him in a rest home. But he remembered his phone number, and he knew he was not home. And he called me , begging me to come and get him. Sometimes in the middle of the night. I will never tell anyone they cannot come ‘home’ again. I cannot do it, I have never forgiven myself for telling him he could not come home. Home is the place you belong, you start to die the minute you are told you no longer belong.

5. Watch where you spit - he hated his meds, I think they made his mind even more cloudy than it was, but they did slow him down, which, since he could sprint up the street before you realized it, was a much needed item. So at dinner he would put it in his mouth and then when my back was turned, pit-tuey, right into the cat food dish. The cat would hear it and run, thinking it was getting some sort of a treat, and start licking the very powerful anti-psychotic pill. The poor thing developed a very strong affinity for them. The worst was when I did not hear the tablet hit, when the dish was full, because I would think he actually took it. Then he would wonder the house all night. You have to be careful with spitting.

4. Sometimes it is better to just walk away from a fight-- My parents had a stormy marriage, and my mother was the thunder cloud. She raged. Primarily at him. But he never fought back. I think it actually drove her anger more, and maybe he knew it. Even as he progressed he did not fight with her, I asked him once, “you don’t like to fight with her, do you?” He simply said, “ I can’t win.” Maybe it was 54 years of marriage, maybe he was just playing the odds. But he was right, there are just some fights you have to seize up and decide you are just not going to win, then let them go. That is a very hard lesson to learn.

3. You can love someone as if they are your own - when he met my mother she had two sons. Very few people ever knew he was not their father. We were a blended family before it was common place, it was just how it was. They did not call him Dad, they had a father, but it worked, their relationship. He taught me how a step-parent has to step back sometimes, and step up other times. It was his example that has held my family together now.

2. When you open the door, you can never be sure who you are letting in.- on the nights when he would not take his pills, I found he had a little secret. He would hear his cat meow to come in and open the door. The cat would come in. He would feed it and then let it back out. This would go on sporadically throughout the night. Until I realized that it was not always his cat, usually it was some other cat, then another cat, then another cat. They would come in, eat, leave. One at a time. I really could not tell you for sure that he knew they were not all his cats. But there was a pattern to it, the cats knew he would open the door. They knew he would feed them. And all parties seemed to be enjoying it. But he refused to check first, to see if it was his cat , he just let them in. I learned to look before I let a meowing cat into the house. Or anyone into the house.

1. You are sometimes NOT the only one that thinks you are funny - He was not big on talking, you could not pull a lot of conversation out of him, but he had this habit of saying and doing things that were absolutely hilarious. He would buy some tough leather meat, my mother would pound the heck out of it boil it for hours and make a great meal. He would say, “ I buy great meat.” and laugh. He called my sister’s boyfriend Leo, Zero, and laugh. He told my brother to give his wife $2.00 and she would leave, implying not only was she a whore but a cheap one, and he would laugh. His humor stayed intact for a long time, a lot of it barbed at my mother. She always said he was going to put, ‘he was the only one that thought he was funny’ on his tomb stone. She didn’t. Because the truth was he could always make her laugh.

Your memories still make me giggle, Poppa, I will love you forever. Happy Father’s Day.


Mary said...

Your post really hits home. My mother in law is in a home and she has dementia. It's so hard to see her and realize she has no clue you are there. Thanks for sharing your poppa's life.

the old schoolhouse said...

Thank you for being brave enough to say it as it is ,i think you did your pop proud.Angie

divamlt said...

Jay and I were just reminiscing over some of his lessons you shared with us, and thought we'd supply this one: "If you have worked someplace for more than 30 years, you know all of the secrets....including how to sneak into secured areas without alerting security!! And you'll never tell, either!"