Why

I called my parents last night. Dad answered the phone. I’m in the habit of thinking “Uh oh,” when that happens.

Jerry A Smith
My dad—Jerry A. Smith taken in the 1970s by my sister Carol Sue Flowers.

Sometimes he answers the phone then nothing. I don’t know whether he puts it down in his lap, whether he gets distracted by the television, or what. Once, when I needed to discuss something with Mom, I had to call my sister Carol on her cell phone and ask her to go get the phone from Dad, after I had exhausted my vocal chords by shouting into it to try to get him to hear me.

“How was your birthday?” Dad asks. I am surprised that he is speaking eloquently without the weighty pauses I’ve become accustomed to. “How are things in Cincinnati?” he asks.

“Did you get a lot of rain today?” he asks. “It rained all day here.”

I am completely taken aback. My dad who has become like the silent rock of ages that you have to practically chisel monosyllabic answers out of with a series of persistent inquiries is not only responding to the conversation, he is initiating it.

I feel tears well up in my eyes. I am listening to my dad over the phone, the man I never see any more. The man who has been replaced by the slow-moving, silent sleeper.

In some ways I feel like this is a cruel joke, making me remember him like this when I have built a solid defense around who he is now that doesn’t allow the memories of who he used to be to creep in.

Silence comes over the phone. Dad has run out of questions. “What did you have for dinner?” I ask to keep the now-stilted conversation going. “I don’t know,” he says. “Let me ask your mother.”

I hear him ask Mom in the background. “Jerry,” she says, “we just ate dinner a few minutes ago. What did you have to eat?”

“Macaroni,” Dad says.

“We had macaroni for lunch,” Mom says. And then she describes dinner for him.

This is an insidious disease.

Dad had a bad day last Tuesday, or maybe it was my mom who had the bad day.

First the buzzer for the kitchen timer went off. “Why is that timer going off?” my mom  asked.

“I set it,” my dad said.

Why did you do that?” Mom asked. She is afraid that if he is able to turn the timer on he is equally as able and likely to turn one of the burners on or the oven.

“All the books say not to ask someone with Alzheimer’s the question ‘why?’,” she told me. “I don’t know why I can’t remember not to ask him why.”

Later in the afternoon they went together into the family room. Mom noticed the telephone answering machine was turned off. “Why is the answering machine turned off?” she asked.

“I turned it off,” Dad said.

Why did you do that?” she asked, even though she knows she’s not supposed to ask why.

I don’t know why, my mom doesn’t know why she continues to ask why.

Mostly, I just simply don’t know. . .why.

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20 thoughts on “Why”

  1. This is a beautiful post.

    Glad you had your dad back for a few minutes of conversation.

    It’s hard enough watching our parents age on their own, without Alzheimer’s joining them for a menage a trois.

      1. Looking at the responses . . . we’re definitely not alone in our concern for aging parents.

        We must remember to keep breathing.

  2. I know this had to be a difficult post to write. We all struggle with the “why” question as it seems to rip apart the world we once knew and push us into a new way of living and communicating. Sometimes the answer why never gets answered, but yet we can’t help but ask. Spirit Lights the Way sent me here…delighted to have found your blog.

  3. I’m so happy you found your dad back. And that he found his sweet daughter to talk to. If only for a little while.
    So sad that your dad is hidden from sight, I can’t imagine how that must feel. *hugs*

    1. Yes. It is quite sad. I think of all the other people who are losing or have lost loved ones the same way. Just one of those things about life that continues to perplex me.

  4. My dad, had dementia at least that is what they called it…in the early days of his illness.

    I think it is very human to ask why. I think we ask why because we have not given up on understanding and knowing…and to not ask why would mean we ‘give up’ in some small way.

    Thank for expressing so vividly a daughter’s love. And I do not ask why you wrote these words…I already know why.

    Namaste…and Nancy from Spirit guided me here…be well:)

  5. I think that the continual “Why” question is perhaps one of the most challenging things that we continue to hear…

    It is a constant reminder that there are two people here in the house who have lost a bit
    of themselves.

    I have resigned from my post of trying to make it otherwise.

  6. This post is full of love but so sad. Too sad to click the ‘Like’ button.

    I suspected my own Dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and if I’m honest, I’m glad the cancer got him first.

    It looks like your father has a supportive family around him. I hope someone is supporting them.

    1. I know it is sad. A lot of things in life are sad—cancer for one, as you know. I lost my sister to cancer in 2009.

      Thanks for your kind thoughts and words. We’ll get by.

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