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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Alzheimer's Hasn't Stopped My Dad from Soaring

“Whatcha doing today, Dad?” I say in my car, speaking from a winding black road in Connecticut to what I imagine to be a messy South Carolina desk covered with partially read books.

“Writing a poem.”

“Oh really? What about? Can you read it?” Ironically, I’m driving to my second writing class of the week.

His finely tuned, philosophical words float, swim, and dip all the way to me, all the way into my stubborn mind. Somehow they make their way through the same thick skull that used to be too hard for his idealistic thoughts, his creative language. “You’re so weird,” I used to say. Now my heart opens for the messages, now I see the wisdom, now I grow through the listening.

My dad has Alzheimer’s. And he wears it well. He wears it like a finely pressed suit that has a super jazzy tie. A purple tie that everyone thought was the worst one to have, until they saw it on my dad.

Don’t get me wrong. He doesn’t dress fancy. In fact, sometimes he might need a tad bit of fashion advice. But he wears the Alzheimer’s humbly, sharing details with me at times, laughing about them, but moving onward always, seeking more than the simplicity of a disease.

Another day comes. “What’d ya do today dad?” The list is silly. It is long. It is rich. He swims, walks, reads, writes, creates pottery, sells pottery, calls his daughters, throws footballs with his grandchildren, gets cool dislocated thumbs, kayaks, attends church, makes new friends, and still gives his daughters homemade fish roasters for Christmas.

Sure, he forgets stuff, but so do I. So I sigh with relief when we chat, knowing neither of us needs to pretend we remember what we talked about last week. Neither of us has to worry about the future. We can just talk about now. “How are you doing Amy?” he asks, and I know he really wants to know. My dad cares.

Yes, he disengages. But just like how that purple tie might work well in the right place, disengagement also is a great skill to have at times. Like when you’ve had a stressful life losing your mom early from alcoholism, serving as a naval officer in the Vietnam war, recovering from your own alcoholism, running an ad agency, managing your own furniture company, authoring and selling countless books, raising three daughters (one who is a drama queen—that’s me,) and maintaining a marriage for over fifty years.

Ya just might need to disengage sometimes. And that's OK.

Finally, my dad is a hopeless dreamer, and when I talk to him it seems that Alzheimer’s, and that rude plaque that is supposedly descending on his brain, uninvited, has only heightened his ability to dream. I used to think dreams were annoying. Now I know they are the stuff that has made up my life. Dreams have made my mind able to travel to new places when the pain comes, and to find hope in a tube of paint or a handful of words during a stormy season of life.

I can recall him smiling on the top of a ski slope as he swerved from side-to-side just a few years ago. “This is the best slope I have ever skied,” he called out. I can picture him clutching the tiller of a sailboat as he discussed his idea of sailing around the world. I can remember him traveling to China and Dubai, becoming consumed with cultures and ideas relating to foreign countries. I can see him hunched over a wheel, spinning his tenth gorgeous beige mug for a set someone might be blessed to drink from.

I remember him saying,  “Learn to write, Amy, if you learn nothing else in college, learn to write well.” I was on my way to college. It was 1988. “The ability to communicate is the greatest skill you can ever hope to have,” he said. "If you can communicate, you can do anything."

So today I want to thank my dad. 

Thank you for encouraging me to dream. Thank you for inspiring me to talk, talk, talk with words, with paint, with language, with love. Thank you for being the precious soul whom you are, deep inside a body that will age, will not be perfect— but will be my dad. My dad who will never, ever stop soaring. I know you, Dad. Your soul has no borders, and no disease can stop it. Your soul will continue flying, in its own unique way, into eternity.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

This Daddy Is A Dream

This daddy is a tree standing tall.

His solid shoulders rise above three little heads with branches extending to shelter them. His steady shoes root into life with constancy, guiding a family through hospitals, surgical rooms, long endless white corridors, more hospitals, therapists offices blurring with books, through moving boxes, up mountains on shimmering bicycles, with boys flying behind— children cheering, celebrating victory.

This daddy is infinity, forever reaching farther, faster and higher.

His arms are long, lifting their mother when she trips, scooping her in from the loneliness, holding a steering wheel steady through blizzards, down ski slopes with screaming smiles flying behind through frozen flakes. “Weee!” His arms hold a boy whose mind is confused, a rollercoaster, lost in the landscape of time, but never alone. His arms wait forever, like extensions of a heart, carrying a family through troubled times, through scary places when they dare note take another step. His arms reach outward farther and farther, never giving up, embracing souls together, sailing to the stars, to heaven, where families fly.

This daddy is a harvest moon shining light into lives, promising goodness tomorrow.

His smile comes as certain as the sky, arcing a rainbow onto everything this mommy sees, healing a hole trying to bend her.

This daddy is a dream, he is the father to my children and I am grateful in ways that I will never be able to fix here in time, never be able to capture.

Thank you God for this daddy. May his father's day be infinitely joyful now and forever— may all fathers including my own, here and in heaven, in the stars, and in the dust, smile with You FOREVER. I am certain that the fruits of their branches will never, ever die.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Arms Like Mine

A piece I wrote for Mamalode.com, a thoughtful motherhood blog:

“Mama, can I come home? Please? Can you come get me? He was mean again. He told me he’s glad I’m leaving this school.” The voice of my 9-year-old sounded like it was inside of my ear, echoing through my head, pushing out of my tear-ducts..."