Very rarely does my family come together and put aside all of our differences to actually enjoy one another, it usually only happens during the holiday season. Of course, my parents have always been at the apex of all the celebrations growing up and now that our lives have been altered by my parents aging and my mother’s Alzheimer’s, we just weren’t ready to have it any other way.
It was over dinner when the inevitable depression that has planted itself comfortably and silently into my father manifested itself. I believe that watching the holiday shenanigans unfold finally took him to his breaking point. It was on Thanksgiving Day that he confided in me the disappointment pulling at him.
He admitted that my mother‘s illness controls their lives. What was meant to be there golden years have now been mangled into constant struggles and turmoil. He told me in so many words that depression dangles over his head every time he opens his eyes in the morning. “Their life plan is no longer their life plan,” he told me. Their plan, unbeknownst to me or my siblings, was to retire in Belize. Away from everyone…to just enjoy each other. They were to live off of their nest egg and watch the blue waters from their private dock behind the home they would have purchased outright. My father actually had a photo of the house. He pulled it from the top drawer of his office desk to show me as we spoke. It was perfect. In every sense of the word. I could undoubtedly see why they had chosen it. It was a place they had visited on their 40th anniversary and subsequently several times thereafter. They had committed to purchase It. Negotiations had already began, in fact.
This could no longer be the case he was now realizing. He also confided in me that not only did my mother not remember the house in the photo but she was beginning to question his identity from time to time.
This is when I had another epiphany. A memory wall! We take thousands of photos during vacations and family gatherings only to have them sit on our cell phones or on digital drives. I shuffled my father out to the car and off we went to the neighborhood Walgreens. We printed off hundreds of photos from our cell phones and I was even able to log into his iCloud account to retrieve more pictures from their trips to Belize as well as other monumental occasions. As a family, we hung them and I must tell you, it was powerful!
Memories we thought were long gone came pouring from my mother’s lips as she assisted in hanging them. My father’s smile was bright and real. It turns out that depression has been found in a very high number of those suffering with Alzheimer’s but what’s more than that, it’s also prevalent in their caregivers. We knew to watch for it in my mother but my father’s depression is undeniable…and we almost missed it. We never thought to consider his loss. Of course, we try to help him work through the differences in my mom…the mood changes and periodic aggression, but is that enough? The thing we failed to consider is that they’re life plan…his life plan…has changed, forever.
XOXO (tears flowing),