Last week I was in California to visit my father in his new home, an assisted living residence for people with Alzheimer's and other sorts of memory disorders. I was apprehensive about his move to this facility — a place that I hadn't seen and had heard only a little about, so I just had to see it.
My mother had been caring for him for seven years — since he first went missing after dropping Sweet M, Fathersvox, and I off at LAX when we were returning to New York City in late August 2001. Recently she'd gotten a homecare aide two days a week, and that person was helpful, taking him for walks and helping around the house.
Unfortunately the walks seem to have given him the idea of starting to go on his own walks and three weeks ago he got up very early in the morning and went down the long steep road that leads to my parents' home. Apparently he was walking back up the hill when he fell down and cut his arm. He couldn't get back up, so a neighbor helped him into her home, and called the sheriff, who took him to the ER. The fire department came to my parents house to make sure my mom was okay and all the doors were wide open.
Then the hospital wouldn't release him back to my mom's care. They said it wasn't safe for him. They said it wasn't safe for her. So after seven years of home care, my mom agreed that he could go into an assisted living facility.
The assisted living place is beautiful: a putting green for anyone who still has a golf swing, swimming pool for those who still have a stroke, a playground for visiting children, a gardening area for residents who want to puttering and plant, a billiards table for the pool sharks among them, and pets of all kinds, including parrots, parakeets, and cockatiels, a terrier, a poodle, a shepherd and a hutch of bunnies. There were music performances and music therapists. Probably a 3:1 overall patient to caregiver ratio. All the caregivers seem to know all the residents names.
And my father seems content. Almost happy. More engaged than I've seen him in since four years.
Of course he doesn't really recognize me anymore. Or if he does, it's probably some sort of vague sense of connection rather than any knowledge of relationship. He smiles when he sees me. He doesn't know my name. Somehow my father is gone, and this new person has arrived in his place: a fragile, sweet, gentle old man who is so different than the father I grew up with.
I started to call him by his name rather than Dad, much as Sweet M calls me by name rather than calling me mom because it's easier for her that way. At first I thought I'd started calling him by his name because it was less confusing to him, and easier for the care providers around him. Now I think I was fooling myself. I've made the change because it's less confusing for me. It's goodbye to Dad and hello to Dan.