A new emotion

On January 17, one week before his 82nd birthday, Dad passed away from complications during a cardiac procedure. As deeply as I’ve felt these past three weeks, I’ve waited until now to try to put those feelings into words.

I have done some writing in the aftermath of losing Dad, but mostly for others . . .

An obituary for the local papers that gave tribute to Dad’s life, his accomplishments and passions.

Memories I jotted down to share during the memorial mass.

Class assignments and correspondence as I’ve attempted to maintain contact with my students, despite the numbness I experienced when I stepped back into the classroom.

The days move very slowly since losing Dad. Mornings and evenings are the hardest, I find.

I wake up and begin to remember that everything has changed–Dad is no longer here on earth, even though he often occupies my dreams. He won’t be calling out to see what’s for breakfast when I’m back at the farmhouse or phoning me in Birmingham to let me know that he sold some bushels of grain and wants to show me a new piece of ground that’s for sale when I head back to Illinois.

At night, I’m fine as I read student papers or watch a movie with Bruce and the girls. Then, the papers are put away and everyone in the house goes to bed. I sit alone and think, and remember, and mourn.

Friends who have lost a parent tell me that the feeling is indescribable. I think they’re right.

Grief is a new emotion, one that’s different than depression. When I think of Dad, I feel immense gratitude for the time that we spent together and all of the qualities that made him who he was–his wit, curiosity, strength, compassion, love.

Depression is a feeling of hopelessness and emptiness. Grief–if I can sufficiently describe what I’m feeling–is another kind of loss. It’s an absence that makes the ones left behind wish they had just one more day with someone who changed the way they experienced the world. My memories of Dad bring me a sense of hopefulness in this life and in what lies beyond.





Memories of a different life

A report issued in the European press in March finally made its way to my parents’ local newspaper:  A retirement home called Alexa Seniors’ Residence in Dresden, East Germany is assisting elderly Alzheimer’s patients by taking them back to another time.

By recreating the Communist era, filling the residence with decor from before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, offering residents clothing from the time, and even providing a shop filled with the kinds of products that residents would have once seen for sale in their local neighborhoods, patients with dementia return to a familiar scene. And to a moment when they were confident in what they knew and what they could do.

One of the early news stories–with lots of photos of the retro environment created at Alexa–can be found here:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4276120/Home-helps-Alzheimer-s-patients-recreating-East-Germany.html

While it’s hard to imagine how returning to an era of control could be a good thing, sometimes the kind of memories are less important than simply the possibility of remembering. As I’ve observed my mom’s painful decline into dementia, I’ve noticed that many of the moments she recalls most vividly are also the most painful–the events and people from her past with which she has experienced the least amount of closure.