In Honor of My Dad
Read my latest article in the Murfreesboro Pulse
Recently, while visiting my dad, going through our routine of listing family members to help him remember them for as long as possible, my dad looked at me and asked, “Where’s Felicia?” I looked right back at him and said, “I am right here, Pop.” He said “Naaa, you are not Felicia.” I assured him that I was his second daughter named Felicia. During that conversation, he was never really convinced that it was me. This was not the first time that he did not recognize me or know who I am. But it is happening more and more often.
I know I am not alone. According to the Alzheimer’s Association website there are 5.4 million people suffering with this illness in our country alone. It is a national epidemic that is extremely personal in nature. There is something profound that happens when your father looks straight at you and doesn’t know who you are.
In that moment, I felt a myriad of feelings: grief, loss, frustration and at the same time, a deeper awareness of who I really am both spiritually and physically. I felt a spiritual oneness with my Ultimate Creator. I also realized in that moment that I am still a daughter, my dad’s daughter, whether he knows me or not. And he is still my dad. His demise into forgetfulness and confusion does not take away who he is to me.
This is not to say that we had a rosy relationship. My father was a passionate, volatile man. Hugging me with fierce intensity one moment and chasing me for some real or imagined sin the next. My siblings and I just never knew what to expect from him and mostly walked around on eggshells around him to be sure not to set his rage off.
But one thing I never doubted was his love and intense loyalty and commitment to his family. Family was everything to my dad. I look back over the years of sacrifice he made in so many ways for us. For example, when I was a kid, he worked third shift in a brewery in Milwaukee, would come home sleep for a few hours then go spend hours teaching and on the practice field with his team as their football coach. Memory of his family is now slipping away from him because of the ravages of this illness called Alzheimer’s.
I realize that my role for him now is to remember the best about my dad. It is not to sugarcoat things and pretend something that was not. But, as he disappears more and more into the anonymity of this illness, my role as his daughter is to keep who I know him to be in the forefront of my mind. My role is to remember him as the man who took a Catholic high school football team to state championships twice when he is confused about what state he lives in. It is to remember the stories he told about Brer Rabbit with animation and aliveness when he can’t remember what he did an hour ago. And it is to remember what it felt like to crawl underneath his arm of protection knowing that he would fight the world for me if I needed him to when he looks at me and does not remember who I am.
Alzheimer’s may wipe out people’s brains, but it only takes away their identity and dignity if we let it. We are a nation losing our memories. Every 69 seconds someone in our country develops Alzheimer’s. There is research and I pray for a cure. But I know it is too late for my dad. So, now I stand and remember for him. I remember who he is when he forgets. I remember his accomplishments, his failures, his anger and his love. I remember his laughter and his bigger than life presence. As his daughter, I remember for him when he no longer can.