But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

So there’s probably something wrong with my dad’s brain.  He’s got word loss and short term memory loss. The last six months, it’s become markedly pronounced.

He has appointments to see some specialists at the end of the month, and from there I guess they’ll start whittling down the list of possible diagnoses.


I sat with him yesterday and listened to him go over the possibilities.  He’s a retired doctor, so all those possibilities were in Technicolor detail.  None of them sounded any good.

He ticked them off on his fingers: Brain tumor somewhere over in Broca’s – possibly recurrence of the melanoma he beat as a young man.  Stroke.  Drug interaction…

“What were we talking about?  I forgot,” he said, three of his five fingers out.

I smiled out of reflex, and he smiled back, and you know what?  I about lost it right there -I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. Because that is exactly the kind of sick humor he’s known for.

And the not knowing, the having to look at my dad from an arm’s length distance of whether it was him talking right then or the problem?  That moment was bad.

The thing is, I’ve been sitting here, trying to make a good argument as to why my dad losing his mental skills is so particularly heartbreaking for a guy like him, with what he’s done with his life, and where he came from, and where he’s been since.

I was pretty much stumped, mostly because:  How do you filter down 70 years of life into a couple of distinctive phrases to convey who that person really is?  You can’t, that’s how.

But eventually, it hit me. I don’t have to tell you what kind of person he is, because if you’ve ever had a complicated relationship with a parent you love, you probably already know exactly what it feels like, even if you don’t know what mine looks like.

That made me sit-back-and-take-a-deep-breath feel better, because if you know what I’m talking about, you’d de facto kinda know my dad. And if you even kinda knew him, you’d have to love him a little, and that would have to make it better somehow.

But then I realized bad stuff happens to people who are loved all the time.  Love doesn’t protect us from dying, or suffering, or spending the end of our lives in adult diapers, trying to escape the Alzheimer’s Special Care unit while we fail to recognize anyone who ever loved us.  Love’s not gonna fix that.

And so here I am again, with words failing to convey how bad I feel.

31 Replies to “But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

  1. Man. I’m sorry. This bums me out. I nod my head in agreement over band things happen to people that you love — I get it — but it doesn’t make it any easier or prevent your heart from breaking.

    I’m really sorry. I wish him and you strength through the tests.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear this. The declining health of a parent, it’s just terrifying, no matter what stage of life you’re at. I was just asking my mother, who lost her father fourteen years ago and whose own mother is ninety, whether you’re ever ready to lose your parent. And even now, at 62, she says no, it’s always awful. I think about living with that fear for thirty more years and it just about crushes me. Nobody ever tells you this: that one of your jobs in adulthood is dealing with this thing. That if you lose your parents young, you always miss them, and if you don’t, you’re always afraid of when you do lose them. Maybe other people are better at this, I don’t know. I’m sure not. <3

  3. This is so damn scary. My heart goes out to you big time – no way to prepare for the diagnosis and no way to anticipate what comes next. I can’t imagine much worse than being a physician and objectively knowing so much about potentialities. On the other hand, he’s sharing things with you and expecting your participation and that counts for something, no matter how painful or uncomfortable. One day at a time … xo

  4. I’m so sorry. My grandfather died earlier this year and it hit me, I have 30 years left with my own dad-I can’t imagine losing him. Adulthood sucks! To tell you the truth I think losing him mentally, so that he wasn’t himself anymore, would be scarier. So, I’m very sorry this is happening to you. You are right, everyone with a complex relationship with a parent knows what your own father means to you. I hope our common humanity is some small comfort to you. Your father loves you rotten. x

  5. All my hugs to you. My mom is a nudge further down this path. You’ll never need words with me. Keep us posted.

  6. I am so sorry to hear about your father. I went through it with an Uncle (who was the best man in the world,ever, and more like a father to me) and an Aunt and now my Mum is starting.It rips the heart right out of you, doesn’t it? All we can do is love them.

  7. A friend of mine is dealing with this and her dad right now too. It is SO HARD. My dad has just been the absent minded professor for as long as I can remember, so I am pretty sure no one is going to notice if he starts forgetting where he put the car keys. He should not be driving anyway.

  8. Do I get to vote? Cuz I votes for the drug interaction and some alternative drugs that DON’T let this keep happening.
    Hugs to you.

  9. aaaaahhhhhhh f&^k. Wishing you the best as you walk this road. And by “best” I mean sanity-boosting talks with your sisters and lots of wine & chocolate. Also, not to get ahead of things but very much recommending _A Bittersweet Season_ by Jane Gross. Should be required reading for all of us who are closing in on 40/have parents in the 60-70 range.

  10. Oh man. I am so sorry to hear this. What a tough situation. I hope the diagnosis is better than you think it will be. Good luck to to your and your family.

  11. I’m so sorry…but having worked in geriatrics for 7 years specializing in dementia, I can say that there are a lot of things that can mimic alzheimers. I’m sure his doctors are doing fantastic ruleouts to make sure it’s not even just a plain old vitamin deficiency (b12 and folate are the key players in that one.) Keep your chin up girl.

  12. I am so sorry, if illness were a democracy, I think you know we’d all vote for drug interaction and an easy fix. I hope that whatever it turns out to be is treatable.

    My grandma had a long decline and now I am starting to see my father begin the process. It is heartbreaking. And complicated.

  13. No words needed, my dear. You feel now how I did when my dad told me that his doctor was making him retire from driving a school bus – and that he needed a pacemaker.

    They knew what the problem was – but there was no fixing it.

    I’m praying for you and your family that they figure out what’s going on with your Dad – and that they can fix it. <3

  14. Oh, my heart is breaking. I’m so sorry 🙁 My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and I’m a little worried that it will be the hereditary kind and my dad (and subsequently I) will suffer from it.

  15. Make sure they test your dad’s mercury levels – my neighbor was mis-diagnosed with Alzheimers and hospice was called in and all sorts of things. Some angel of a doctor decided to run a few more tests and discovered the absurdly elevated mercury, they somehow got him detoxed and he was right as rain.

    Leave no stone unturned and let Light and Love be yours. I will add you and yours to my nightly mantras.

  16. My father in law has Alzheimer’s. I’m so sorry for what you are going through. Call the local Alzheimers resource group. They are wonderful people and will help you face the scary stuff. When the time comes, check out HCR Manorcare. They are all over. The fantastic, loving, understanding care they give has made an impossibly painful situation so much better for us. Good luck.

  17. *sits beside you on a porch swing* *reaches over and grabs your hand* *gives it a quick squeeze* *keeps swinging*

    I’m here. I can’t be there but I’m here wishing I could be there. Take care of you…

  18. So, so sorry for you, for him and for your family. I’m also the daughter of a doctor with a complicated relationship between us. We’re also facing down some not cool neurological stuff (though he has yet to acknowledge this, see complicated). It is scary and it sucks. Hope you come to a positive resolution.

  19. When I grew up, I put away childish things… including the desire to be all grown up and to hide the things about myself that are childish. It is a childish thing to want to be an adult. (Or something like that.)

    Hold your Dad’s hand and call him Daddy, because you will always be his child.

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