Alzheimer's What Children Should Remember When Their Father Forgets

by Jon Mertz

I can see the frustration in my dad's eyes, and I can hear it in his voice: "What was his name? What was I supposed to do?"

Forgetting happens more and more often.

Memories create a human connection to family, relationships and experiences.

And, then, they get confused and disappear.

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease: My father forgets.

My dad is suffering from dementia, and Alzheimer's is right around the corner. We have been here before. His father had Alzheimer's disease even before it was able to be diagnosed or recognized as a disease.

I recall visiting Grandpa every Sunday. He was in a nursing home, bed bound. My dad held his hand and tried to understand where he was. What memory was he living? Is there a way to make the connection and have a conversation about a time past?

Visiting a nursing home in the 1970s is the definition of depression, especially for a teenager.

My dad likely felt the same, yet he went. After all, his father raised him and a family of seven. Grandpa worked hard as a farmer, survived The Great Depression, weathered droughts, earned a living and made a difference.

I wish I had the foresight to ask my grandpa more questions about his life. I was young; he was old. We had a relationship, but it could have been more.

My dad seemed to know the stories, or maybe he just pretended. Either way, he was there, listening and trying to decipher the experience his dad was remembering.

Alzheimer's disease is a bully; it steals your dignity and your memories with no regard for what is cherished. It is scary in every way.

My dad is scared of facing a similar fate, and I am scared, too. I'm scared for him, and I'm scared for what lies ahead for me and my memory.

What will my dad remember?

Will he remember my third-grade surgery? My car accident in high school, or being there when I graduated from college? Will he remember my name?

I remember, for now. I remember his firmness and his compassion. I remember the harvests, helping driving trucks or shoveling grain. I remember his tender moments with my mom. I remember him standing up for progress when others wanted to maintain the status quo.

I remember the spring planting, the dirt and our faith in the seeds of growth.

I remember what he may forget. Family is the memory keeper. Each generation pulls something forward, good and bad. We remember, and we tell our kids. We try to be better, do better.

Our stories contain colorful characters, and memories embrace our hearts.

I am unsure of my fate as a father. Will I wander through my latter years trying not to forget? What will my sons remember?

Teens try to distance themselves from their parents. After all, greater independence is a strong call.

My teen sons are now where I was over 30 years ago. How they view my interactions with my dad may set in place how they relate to me 30 years from now.

The momentum of time continues, yet we see familiar mile markers along the way.

I hope they remember when I forget. I hope they remember the Saturday breakfasts with Dad, or the long hike in Zion National Park. Along with the good times, I hope they remember the struggles and how we tried to do what was best.

They know, I believe, we were always there to guide, encourage, challenge and love them.

The lesson of forgetting is to be present.

Family is an interdependent web of experiences and stories, and we need to be present. We need to ask questions. We need to have meaningful conversations.

Father's Day is a time to pause and connect with our dads. Be present.

Fathers, do the same. Be present with your sons and daughters. Tell a story, share a past experience or plant a connection point. You will need these later in life.

Connection points are memories. They may be what remains as you hold your dad's hand later on, searching for where he is.

When you find the place, a warmness will fill your hearts.