Seeing Another Side of My Father

photo taken in happier times

His body shook. His long, thin legs thrashed in the sheets, casting them off to the side. I pressed the call button with one hand and held his hand with the other. I didn’t know how to stop his shaking. He squeezed my hand so tightly I didn’t know if my dad was dying or if this was a reaction to the drugs that dripped in his veins.

The wait for help was so long. Or so it seemed that way as my father pleaded, “Help! Push me back! Grab the rope. Grab the rope. Grab the rope!” I didn’t know what he was talking about. What rope? I gripped his hand. I said, “I’m here. You’re safe.”

I didn’t feel safe. I was terrified. I’m the daughter. He’s the one who used to make me feel safe.

“Help me in the boat,” he continued. “Get the rope.” I didn’t know where he was in his mind. I felt like I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t recognize my father like this. We were on the 3rd floor of Saddleback Hospital because he had fallen, alone in his house. No one was coming in the room to help. And then everyone was in the room. At least 7 nurses, doctors — I don’t know who they were. They were moving things, testing things, saying things. “Stand back,” one said to me. She must’ve seen how frightened I looked.

I’d never seen my father like this.Eventually, the nurses let me hold his hand again. He squeezed it. Gripped it. Clenched it. I didn’t feel like I was helpful. I didn’t know what to say. I stood there, tense, holding on, unwilling to let go. The nurse on the other side held his right hand. The anti-seizure medication flowed through the I.V. into his veins. And then he relaxed. His grip loosened.

The nurse looked at me. “He’s ok. He’s calm now.”

I was flooded with emotions. I was afraid to let go of his hand to wipe the tears that streamed down my face. I slumped in the chair someone must’ve moved underneath me. I had never seen someone have a seizure. I had never seen my dad so agitated. So frightened.

My dad was a minister, a designated listener, a man who comforted others in their grief and fear. I was scared to see another side of him. So confused, so in need of comfort. So human.

I often feel powerless in caring for my dad now. He’s out of that hospital. We moved him to a place where there’s Memory Care and lots of support. They tell me he’s getting stronger. But I can’t see him because of COVID. It’s heartbreaking.

When I talk to my dad on the phone, I feel agitated myself. He’s worried about my mom. He wants me to help her pack for her trip to New York. He asked me to drive her to the airport.

My mom has been dead for almost two years.

I have a hard time lying to my father, the minister. The Positive Approach to dementia says I should essentially lie — go along with the stories and requests he makes. Reassure him that I’ll help mom. Then I’m supposed to steer the conversation in another direction. Keep it light and positive.

I struggle with that.

Sometimes I’m stuck in my sadness that I can no longer help my mom pack, or drive her to the airport or take her on a trip. But mostly I’m sad for my dad, because he has lost so much. First, his wife, then pieces of his memory, and now his home.

If I’m really honest, I’m sad for myself. I miss my mom, my dad, and all of us, connected and alive, together, in person, as we used to be.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store