Some things I just can’t do

Flash drives containing photos and documents from my dad's computer.

I can sit and help my dad eat his french fries by breaking them in half, dipping them in ketchup and handing them to him.

I can help my mom move my dad into his bedroom for a nap supporting one side under his arm, stabilizing his walker, and encouraging him to take one more step when his weak left leg falters.

I have no trouble telling him, “You’re doing fine. You’re going to make it,” when three more steps to the bed feels like a marathon.

I can wait patiently for his answer of whether he wants cake or pie on his birthday while he pecks out the letters on his keyboard, one slow keystroke at a time . . .p . . . i . . . e.

But I couldn’t destroy his computer.

My mom has started to seriously consider getting a hospital bed for Dad. This will theoretically help in many ways with changing him, changing the bedding, and even allowing him to stay in bed in a reclined position if he’s having a bad day. I’ve been encouraging this move for a while. So Mom is trying to get the bedroom cleared of superfluous furniture in order to make room. The computer desk is on the donate list.

Quite a while back, maybe eight years or so, my siblings and I got our parents a new computer for Christmas that primarily my dad used on the desk in their bedroom. Two or three years ago we bought them a new laptop, right about the time Dad was using the computer less and less as a result of his Alzheimer’s. So from a very rational perspective, the computer in the bedroom has become superfluous.

But I remember my dad sitting at it, checking e-mail from old friends, reading newsletters from his stock broker, downloading photos from his digital camera, making all of us cds of family photographs that he must have spent hours and days scanning in. After he was no longer able to use the computer, I started taking care of his email for him, deleting messages when it became too full. Eventually I saw the futility in that and just stopped.

Like the van with its fishing rods stashed in the back, I was having a lot of trouble with the computer.

The current thinking from several sources I consulted was that we should destroy the hard drive before we donated or disposed of the computer.

A couple weeks ago, I moved the computer out of my parents’ bedroom and put it in my trunk. A few days later I moved it out of my trunk and placed it on the floor of the garage. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to open up the case or remove the hard drive and smash it with a hammer. I asked Mark to do it for me, and to take it to the recycle center. Some things I just can’t do.

One night, as the deadline for dropping off the computers loomed closer, I reminded Mark about it. Mark got up from the kitchen table and went out to the garage. I knew what he was doing. I sat at the kitchen table and cried.

Such a silly thing really.

The last time I went into the basement of my parents’ house I got to within about 10 feet of the doorway to my dad’s wood workshop and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I turned around and went back upstairs.

When the time comes, I won’t be the person disposing of his tools and machines.

I guess many if not most people have to deal with these kinds of tasks at some point. Grieving family members have to take care of the items left behind when a loved one dies.

You’d think there’d be some solace in the fact that Dad is still here. But it doesn’t feel that way to me.

Grieving family members allow themselves to grieve. But for us, this is not the time to grieve.

With Dad there are showers to take, french fries to eat, naps to take, questions to answer, and birthdays to celebrate. There is, this is, no time to grieve.

30 thoughts on “Some things I just can’t do”

  1. Oh Christine–what a post. I can really empathize with you on this one—you are grieving the loss of who your daddy used to be and that must be unbearable at times. There is no way your reaction to the computer was silly at all. I would have been exactly the same. Exactly. I think you just acknowledge that there are some things you simply can not do, get someone else to take care of those things for you and you do what you need to do. I am anticipating that when we have the auction here at my father in law’s that I may end up being more emotional than I can imagine. Hang in there and don’t be too hard on yourself. You have been and continue to be a wonderful daughter as your father endures this horrid disease—-you are strong and have more strength in you than you realize.

    1. Thanks for your support, Beth Ann. I know you understand with all you’ve been through lately.

      Do you have to be there for the auction? Perhaps you should be out to breakfast at a nice coffee shop and then visit a bookstore. You would probably be hungry again and need to stop and get lunch somewhere. . . 🙂

      1. Still have time to decide if we will be here for the auction–the auctioneer will take care of it all which is what we wanted–I don’t know if Chris will be here–Colleen and Carlton definitely not. We have time to decide, thank goodness, since it is scheduled in May. Hang in there. This was such a well written post today–as always.

  2. Gosh, Christine, I can SO hear your heart in this post. How poignant. How painful. How real. How raw.

    And actually, I see enormous strength in your ability and willingness to ask for help in these things you can’t do. God, that to me, is huge strength. I think it’s part of letting go–letting go of the control of this thing that so represents your dad’s vitality. It’s hard to let go. It takes strength to let go. Your loss is ongoing. It lingers. You are losing. And in that losing you are winning signs of your own strength and vitality.

    Brilliant post, my friend. This would make a great beginning to another memoir–this time about your father.


    1. We all have to do this at some point. Or at least most of us do. I just cry out loud.

      Thank you for your kind words and praise. It means a lot, dear friend.

  3. At 88 my father(parents live with me 10 years) is normal and mentally alert but leaving our place to this condo we had to get rid of all our hand tools and power tools-no room. I still grieve over that and he is frustrated with nothing to do or nothing to fix. Tools have the user’s energy and magic in them and do not work as well if someone else has them. (Italians are superstitious).We will be cremated but if not I would bury father with some tools. He would use them wherever we go.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Carl. Yeh. I really don’t have any idea how we will let go of/get rid of the tools.

      It’s so hard to find some worthwhile project or endeavor for our elders to do to be useful or occupied. Just last week, Dad indicated he didn’t have enough to do with his hands. But sadly, he isn’t really capable of doing much if anything, without harming himself, or making a monumental mess. Sad.

  4. There is no controlling grief, only moving through it day by day. The process has already begun, as your heart and mind try to come to terms with the losses you’ve already felt, and the unknown that lies ahead. My brother-in-law lost his wife to ALS over a period of years. With each setback, another phase of grieving took place. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We, your blog friends, are here under your arms, supporting you as you move forward. Hugs.

    1. I had a friend who lost his sister to ALS. That is one awful disease. Maybe the worst. At least my dad is old and has lived a full life. We expect to lose our parents. It’s just hard to watch him slip away. I know he would have hated to be this dependent. But there’s no getting around it.

  5. Christine this is such a great post and I totally understand. There are some things I’ve had to part with…and had to do it because it’s just me. But ALZ is the long goodbye. I’ve faced my dad passing which was hard, but it’s final. With mom & her ALZ it’s hard to watch the decline, little by little everyday. And while I want to keep empowering her, reality smacks me in the face that she’ll never be empowered, she’ll continue to forget the big and small things, just as she’s forgotten who I am. Hang in there, sending hugs!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Pamela. I know you understand. I’m sorry your mother has forgotten who you are. I am terrified of that day.

      You hang in there too. Hugs to you.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that. I try to focus on the positives when I’m with my dad. I take this as a gift of an opportunity to shower him with love and praise.

      1. I know that my daughter, too, will get that place. Right now the heartache of it chokes her with grief. She loves her Dad and i tell her to cherish every moment she has with him.

  6. Just want to leave you some hugs. As I think I’ve mentioned before, we went through this with my mother-in-law. It’s heartbreaking. I would have cried too.

  7. Alzheimer’s and fathers…2 mysteries in my life. Because my mom died with it…and my father died when I was a one year old toddler…the disease and the parent are forever on the back-burners of my mind.

    You’ve captured my personal purgatory so well in this post about the anxiety of your current hell. I wish I’d had a father of whom I could reminisce…wonderful memories…never to be mine. And yet you must now face the agony of seeing your dad as he struggles with Alzheimer’s. I know of what you speak since my mom succumbed to the awfulness of it.

    But we have our memories…at least we have those…

    huge hugs…btw…please stop by for a well-deserved hug award…my accompanying words are sincerely spoken…hugmamma. 😉

  8. Oh how I understand the grief you feel. My mother has dementia and I grieve the loss of my mother daily. Yes, she is still physically with us, but she is not the same mother I knew growing up. It it so difficult.

    1. I know you understand my situation, as I do yours. It’s difficult. I just try to focus on the positive moments. And even in the absence of anything else, I take comfort in giving him hugs and feeling his warm and soft body.

      It’s a hard way to leave this life.


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