It happened while we were together at Thanksgiving. We had noticed that Dad was having more and more trouble – short term memory loss, physical weakness, mood swings … classic signs we could not ignore any longer. Mom was growing increasingly concerned. We had no official diagnosis yet, but we knew.
We sat around the dining table in one of his favorite spots. He loved to eat! John held the camera and I asked the questions. Little by little, we peeled back the years to talk about his family, his childhood, his athletic achievements, his report cards, his dating life, his relationship with the sister and brother he lost as a young adult, his courtship of mom, and so much more.
We learned a great deal that day. We heard stories that before too long he wouldn’t be able to tell us. We felt closer as a family, listening to the man we all cherished. Mom sat by his side, sometimes correcting, sometimes adding, sometimes holding his hand. Once when she stepped in, he turned with that glint in his eye so familiar and said, “Who’s telling this? You or me?”
We laughed ‘til we cried. We listened somberly when he told us about receiving word while at the University of Alabama that his sister, Elizabeth, had been killed in an automobile accident. He expressed the pain and regret he had felt when he spoke about his younger brother, Billy, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 24 years old.
We listened as he told us about his conversion and his call to the ministry … what it was like in combat during World War II … how it felt to see the Statue of Liberty on his way back home through New York harbor. A bit chagrined, he told us the hard lesson he learned as a kid when he grabbed hold of a car bumper while wearing roller skates. His body was one whole scab. His dad looked at him and asked, “Oliver, what did you learn?”
Recently, I have been impressed and concerned about the number of people who are going through similar experiences now. You are losing a loved one slowly as dementia charts its tragic course through his or her life. Nance Reagan called this terrible circumstance a slow death. Someone else has noted that when we lose a person and his mind, it’s like a library burns down. Alzheimer’s is an awful disease.
We can pull out the tape and reminisce together. It helps. It preserves. It connects. We remember the good times, the precious memories. Perhaps you have done that, too. If not, pull out the camcorder or your camera phone and start recording … while you have time.