I was watching CBS Sunday Morning not long after I’d heard things were amiss with my father when they did a piece on Glenn Campbell. He’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it had progressed to the point that his kids were in his band so they could help him feel familiar with his surroundings and support him when he did things like, forget the lyrics to a song he’d sung over a hundred times. When they were interviewing his wife they were asking her what it was like to watch him struggle with Alzheimer’s, Glenn sitting next to her, looks confused and asks her, ‘Who has Alzheimer’s?’ ‘You do Glenn’ she replied and he looks even more confused and says, ‘I do?’ I sobbed. I knew that all to soon this would be what we’d be facing. But I’ve started in the middle of this story, to understand everything I’ll take you to back to the beginning.
When I was 8 years old my biological father left. Like, left-left. My Mother and sister and I had been gone for the weekend and came home and he’d cleaned up and cleaned out leaving little more than a note on a table and not much else. I’d spend the rest of my childhood, teen years and early adulthood feeling that abandonment I’m sad to admit out loud. You want to believe that this might change you a bit but in the fairness of all honesty it did more than just affect me a little. It changed who I was and since he’d never come around again until my late 20’s, with much conviction I’d spend those crucial years believing all men lied, left, and had little love to give.
When my mom met Ardie I was in my mid 20’s and I wasn’t exactly open and accepting. They dated, I rolled my eyes. They got engaged, I rolled my eyes. They married, I rolled my eyes some more. They started living a life and I just kept waiting for a fall out. But then change took over my world, the one man I decided to let in I married, and he proved that a tragic mistake only reinforcing my anti-men belief. But Ardie he remained strong. There wasn’t anymore eye rolling. In fact when my brief marriage fell apart he was there to help me pick up the pieces, like the Father I’d been waiting for.
As the years have gone on I became closer & closer to him and what I began to realize was there were so many wounds he’d healed I’d been unaware of until I faced ‘losing’ him. The misconception is that if they’re still there physically that you don’t feel the same pain someone else does who’s truly gone from this world. I’ve learned that both are equally tragic. Both you lose the one you loved. Both you mourn that person not being present in your world anymore. What I had never prepared for was how you never stop mourning when they’re right in front of you. Your heart continues to break over & over again.
I was in Texas when my mom called to warn me he’d not been acting the same. But you argue with yourself it’s nothing, it’s just old age. Until you’re sitting in a Doctor’s office and they’re telling you it’s Alzheimer’s and here’s the protocol…and then you tune out. Because you feel to young to be losing a parent. Because you’d spent all of your life waiting for that Father void to be filled it can’t be done already. Because you had no idea you could feel so much sadness so quickly. But with having friends who’d lost parents before you had, you’d SEEN what it was like first hand…you thought. You thought you had until it happened to you. Our family, my mom, have all rallied. Have all been so amazing. A true team spirit. We are one and all we want is to ease this journey of his and quite a journey it is…
For now you find yourself sitting in a hospital room repeating the same thing over and over again to a man who used to be so smart he ran a company. You find yourself getting yelled at by him about how mean you are because you won’t give him what the doctor’s have told you he can’t have. You spend most days crying because your heart never stops praying for this to end. You find yourself reading every article you can find written about it—Amy Grant, Lee Woodruff all will write articles around the time you’re hearing his diagnosis and you cling to their words of encouragement like a life raft.
I have acted in ways since his diagnosis that aren’t me. I’ve pushed people away that I know would do my heart good. I’ve yelled at people when I didn’t mean to. I haven’t said anything at all to others when I was doing more harm than good by saying nothing at all. I’ve taken career and life risks when I didn’t have the heart or will power or strength to do it and I’ve failed because I feel so guilty leaving the side of this person who in so little time showed me what a true Father figure was.
I’m not ready to let him go. But I truly want more for his life than this. Where he can’t be left alone. Where he can’t even make decisions about his own lunch anymore, forget about making multi-million dollar decisions for a pharma company. He’s big in stature but now has to be handled, watched, and catered to like a little child and I feel selfish for struggling with letting him go. When a glimpse of him comes around every now and again I usually cry myself to sleep knowing it’s just a fleeting minute of the old him, of his wonderful heart.
I miss the man who used to call to check on me to see how my latest adventure was making out. I miss the man who used to take me aside and tell me that no matter what other’s were saying about my decisions he believed in me and if I put my mind to it I could do anything I wanted to. But more than anything I miss his heart because he even though he physically sits right in front of me his spirit is long gone and mine is here left to fight for him, love for him, advocate for him until his body decides to go meet his spirit…
Take each day as it comes. Enjoy the good days, knowing the bad days will loom large but will pass and loving him like there’s no tomorrow. Because someday there will be no more tomorrow for him and then I’ll mourn the loss of him some more…