My Father died several years ago. I remember his voice, it was gentle and soothing. Dad enjoyed a good joke and he would laugh out loud. When I started school, he said to me ‘Be kind, always be kind’.
My Father was born in Poland, he came to England by boat shortly before the war started. He was ten years old and brought his younger brother and sister with him, taking care of them during the long journey. He was a clever and wise man who regretted having not had a formal education.
There were signs that something was wrong
To begin with the signs were infrequent and I put them down to aging. Once during a family holiday Dad and I visited the old city of Jerusalem. He would not leave my side for a moment. I realised that he was scared and I noticed that something was wrong with his speech, he almost made sense but not quite. We had an ice cream and I tried to persuade myself that Dad was okay.
There were many losses
Early on my Father damaged his car, it was beyond repair and he never drove again. Then Mum and I noticed that he was forgetting words. Dad was aware of this and would find another way to communicate his meaning for example ‘the thing that you cut with.’
Some months later distinguishing day and night had become a problem. Dad tried going to the shops when they were closed and Mum worried when he was out for a long time. Dad lost money, bank cards and more, Mum found these in the places where he had hidden them.
As time went on Dad could not always recognize people. He once took me aside to tell me that a family friend did not sound like themself. He knew who they were supposed to be but was not sure if they actually were. He wanted to know whether I was having a similar experience.
Nonetheless, Dad was still himself
My Father had always been a decisive person knowing what he did and did not want. We found that this characteristic remained intact. Dad did not want to take his tablets and when a hospital nurse insisted he threw them down the toilet.
Everything that Dad said to me made sense
Often he would ask about the children ‘are the children okay, what about the children?’ he was upset and kept repeating the question. Dad saw my children regularly and at this stage he seemed to understand that my brother’s children who lived abroad were fine.
Nonetheless he continued to ask about the children. Eventually I realised that Dad was talking about his younger brother and sister. Tragically both children had been killed in England, they died from the blast of a bomb dropped nearby. My Father was not with them at the time. His own Father had carried the children in his arms, running from house to house to try and get help for them, but it was already too late.
It became clear to me that if I could enter into the time and place that my Dad was experiencing he would not be alone and we could have a sensible conversation. I had already figured this out when he became very anxious about a strange woman in the kitchen. I realised that in his mind he had not yet met my mother, so we sat together in my car until the moment passed and he returned to the present.
Dad never forgot how to read
I found it quite remarkable that even when he did not know where he was and did not recognise people who he had known for many years, Dad could still read. He read out signs on the hospital walls and seemed to understood them. As a young boy he had taught himself to read and write and I wonder whether his determination then had a lasting effect.
Dad became more emotional and less inhibited
In the privacy of his own home it had never been Dad’s way to shy away from his feelings. My brothers, sister and I have fond memories of him singing lovingly to Mum and of seeing a tear in his eye at the end of a moving film. During Dad’s illness I found that he was even more emotional as well as less reserved. For him, crying whenever and wherever was absolutely fine.
Dad could still connect deeply with another person
I would like to end with a memory that I cherish. Dad was poorly and confused and Mum had called an ambulance. I knew in my heart that Dad would never return to his home. Throughout the journey Dad and I were looking into each other’s eyes. I felt a connection between us and wondered whether this was just my own wishful thinking. Mum said something to me and as I turned towards her Dad said very clearly ‘Paula, you have been treating me with your eyes, would you kindly put them back again.’