No one really prepares you for the avalanche of grief you feel years down the line from the first diagnosis. “He has Alzheimer’s…” They don’t tell you how the memories hit you all at once when you notice that you never even had a chance to say goodbye. “I’m sorry, there is no cure.” You come to the realization that the days have slipped away and you failed to notice where his sanity ended and your loss began. “His years are limited.” Is it possible to mourn someone who is gone, but also still here? Still here in front of you, breathing, walking, and talking?
“At least he’s still alive.”
But it’s not the same. He’s not the same. If I had the chance to have one final conversation before embarking on this tumultuous journey together, I would say, “Hey, I know you’re leaving and I know this will get hard, but I promise we will love you the same. I promise when things get frustrating and all we want to do is yell, I’ll still remember you for who you were and not get angry at who you are now. It’s okay if all you’ll want to do is cry when you look at our faces. I’ll still remember every laugh and joke you told us and I’ll have it on a loop in my head when I miss you.”
Now his persona is just a memory and his body is just a suit until his brain gives out. The quilt of memories that I’ve woven together in my mind of precious moments can no longer be shared with him. How do you ask someone to put together the broken pieces of your heart when they’re the cause of it? Every question I ask, every word I say, and every joke I share is met with blank eyes. The little things that I miss the most are when he would bring home candy bars after 16-hour shifts of driving all day in the city or when he would use too many hot spices in our Indian dishes but we would still happily wolf it all down. Such a dad thing to do. How naive I was to think I would have this forever. I remember rolling my eyes whenever he gave one of his endless lectures that always went through one ear of mine and out the other. What I would give to taste something made from his loving hands. What I would give to hear him say some words of wisdom from his caring heart.
Living with the ghost of a man who made me who I am but can no longer provide me with even a fraction of the love I need has taught me that all of my grief for him is love that I have held in my chest for far too long with nowhere to go. No one to give it to and no one to receive it.
When a loved one passes away, they slowly become a hazy memory in your mind whose loss you feel in waves. The idea of even touching their body as if they are a living breathing person immediately ceases to become a possibility. So, what about when this hazy memory of a person is still alive and still lives in your home? Not just the home you have made in your heart for them, but your actual home where you wake up and see their face and smile, but they’re unable to smile back. Can you properly mourn someone who is no longer mentally there but is still there in the flesh? It feels like being poked in the heart with a needle, but the needle remains, and then with each passing day, another needle pokes you until your entire heart is covered. It’s a slow, bittersweet pain that takes its time with you, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Granted, we will all eventually go, some in peaceful ways and some in not so peaceful ones; the worst way of all, in my opinion, is to go day by day, slowly slipping into the emptiness of your mind and getting pulled into a black hole of the unknown. You become a shadow, easy to see but always out of reach to your loved ones. If I had known my days with my father would suddenly be limited, I would have been a little kinder and a little softer. Spent time in the mornings sipping my tea slower just to draw out our conversations longer. I would have cherished every car ride home from school and taken time learning what his favorite color was and what he wanted to be when he was younger. It’s the little things I wish I had more time to do with him, and now every day is another hailstorm of grief. It’s as if my father has suddenly submerged into the ocean leaving behind every memory in those dark blue depths, only to return with his hollow body incapable of remembering his children and wife. It would be a lie to say we didn’t go out into the waters helplessly searching for bits and pieces of his life, but it’s a sad reality we’ve all accepted. I’ll continue to mourn a father that I am blessed to still hug and kiss and hold but not talk to and laugh with; that father lives in my dreams, and I visit occasionally.
“Isn’t it funny that day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.” — C. S. Lewis.