THE BLOG
05/28/2014 12:39 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

A Bittersweet Father's Day Gift

I am close to my dad, but not geographically, so most of our interactions are conducted over the phone. In a recent conversation, he relayed how he had absolutely no appetite for dinner because he had been out for a great late lunch with his buddies. I asked questions about the food, the restaurant and the company and he answered a little vaguely, but joyfully. I was absolutely delighted even though the only place such a lunch had taken place that day was in my dad's mind.

My dad has advanced Parkinson' Disease Dementia, and there is definitely nothing delightful about that. However, after years of watching him struggle with his own decline, besieged by his failing mind and deeply frustrated by his inability to overcome his physical limitations, I celebrate every break he gets even if it means joining him in a world constructed entirely of illusions.

My dad's long-term memory is still crisp and fully functional, so that is where we spend most of our time. One of his most beloved movies is Casablanca, and I just have to say; "You played it for her, you can play it for me!" and off we go singing "As Time Goes By" in unison. His favorite song though is Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." In fact, he loved Louis Armstrong so much that he bought a trumpet thinking he was going to learn to play jazz, but alas, there is only one Louis and we can still laugh about that.

I really treasure these brief joyful moments because there are so many dark ones triggered by both the disease itself, but also by heavy side effects from his meds; hallucinations, very intense paranoia, lingering depression, confusion and sadness combined with loss of physical mobility and fine motor skills. My dad is literally disappearing before my very eyes.

My heart chronically arches for my dad, for all the things I can't do to make it better for him, for when he can't remember my son or does not understand why I can't just stop by (we live in different countries). I am deeply saddened by the fact that my son will only remember my dad as impaired and only hope that my stories, such as getting the ride of my life in a rubber dingy tied to my dad's windsurfer, will give my son a taste of the person he once was.

When I notice my hands shaking or have I a mental lapse, such as I described in Running Rogue, I get flooded with anxiety. Could this be a sign of early onset? It is not helping that my dad is no longer shielding me from my own mortality. But as I stare it down I feel blessed because my dad and I have had a great run and I know just how much he loves me.

So the only thing left to give my dad for Father's Day is a wonderful trip down memory lane and that is exactly where we will go.

"My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me."
-Jim Valvano

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