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Life After Alzheimer’s Holds My Father’s Beautiful Reward

From a house on a hill a sacred light shines
I walk through these rooms but none of them are mine
Down empty hallways I went from door to door
Searching for my beautiful reward
— From Springsteen and Beautiful Reward

My Handsome Daddy I love and miss you so

My Handsome Father. I love and miss you so

By broadest definition, Generation X begins in 1961 and ends in 1981. That means, the oldest Gen Xers turn 50 this year. Darragh McManus, a writer for the British newspaper, The Guardian, has written a commentary about it. Here is an excerpt:

“Generation X is officially old. Sorry, when did this happen? It seems like five minutes ago we were young, we were the future, the people for whom anything was possible. More than possible: inevitable. Now we’re the middle-aged…You don’t rage against the machine anymore because you are the machine. You are the person that kids look at and think: ‘that guy is so old and so uncool’, just like you used to do. It’s all quite depressing… You’re too old to wear jeans, geeky spectacles and ironic T-shirts…”

McManus is a regular commentary writer for The Guardian. He’s written a  couple of books and in true Gen Xer fashion says his life ambition is to “refuse the Oscar for Best Director.”I have to admit, I’ve had my share of wide-eyed moments regarding getting older. They usually come to me in the middle of the night when I’ve awakened from a recurring nightmare. It is the day before my college graduation and the dean tells me I am one credit shy of being able to graduate. Fortunately (?), I wake up and realize that I did in fact complete my Bachelor’s degree — 20 years ago. Then it sinks in. I’m in my forties. When did this happen?At least a half a dozen times, I’ve found myself saying the exact thing Sally Albright boo-hooed in When Harry Met Sally:

SALLY: No, no, no, I drove him away. AND, I’m gonna be forty.
HARRY: When?
SALLY: Someday.
HARRY: In eight years.
SALLY: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead-end…

***

I only visit my father in the nursing home when I know for certain that nobody else is going to be there. My private sessions with him and our brief conversations are an intimacy I have never known with anyone. We — as in all of us — are always courting death whether we want to admit it or not.

Like a squirrel, I furtively gather up the last few nuts of autumn. As I prepare for the long winter ahead, I lift the bottom of my apron, to create a basket in which I carry out each morsel and memory of our words, our time together. Don’t anyone bump me. If I lose a single fragment of these fruits with an unwelcome or careless inquiry or observation, I will scream in your face.

Get away from me! You and your reckless, colossally misplaced stories about how you or someone else could not stand my father. Maybe I can’t stand you! #truestory

As you can see, I’m in a great frame of mind. I am hoarding memories, preparing for a solstice that will never end. My father is entering his field of perfection and he’s going to have a field day. Like that song by Garth Brooks,

“There’s a moment we all come to in our own time and our own space, where all that we’ve done, we can undo, if our heart’s in the right place.”

***

It is 7 p.m. and my kids have driven me to the cliffs of insanity. My 13-year-old wants to know why I was “freaking out” during the final three seconds of the Kentucky Derby. Mothers should not show emotion, wear trendy hairdos or have fun. Ever.

I have just returned from the store bearing gifts. I call to Sullivan, my five-year-old. I say I have a surprise for you. I hand him his Sponge Bob socks. He looks down, disappointed and says he thought I brought him something good. I hand the Super Bridgy, 3, a new Coogi dress. She says I hate dresses and runs off.

I’m an absolute winner, people.

I decide to do something I rarely do. I just get up and walk out the front door and leave the house without telling anyone goodbye. I drive the 12 miles to the nursing home as the sun goes down. Merle Haggard is playing on the radio:

And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole. No-one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried.

I arrive at the nursing home around 8 p.m., and I slip into my father’s room. He is awake and he recognizes me. He calls me Jenni and we chat for a few minutes before I ask him what year it is. He says he thinks it’s 1967 and asks me if that is right. I tell him no, it’s 2011. He laughs because he doesn’t believe me. I tell him George Jetson is President and he says, come on now. My father has never lost his sense of humor.

I tell him 1967 was a very good year. I say that’s the year I was born and he says, how old are you now, 19? #wish. He asks me where I live these days like he always does and then he asks me what brings me up this way. I tell him I miss him and he thanks me.

He says he hates this place, the hospital he calls it, and he says he want to go back out to sea. I can’t blame him. This place sucks. He tells me he spent much of his years in the Navy brawling and too much time thinking about girls.

I think of all the years I wasted thinking about boys. I could have learned Chinese instead. I ask him how long he’s been in the hospital and he says about six months. It’s been eight years.

The room grows quiet as I hold my father’s warm hands. He is short of breath and asks me a question I am unprepared to answer:

Do you have any special plans for the future, Jenni?

I put my head on his chest and sigh. I can’t think of one future plan beyond getting up and doing the same damn thing tomorrow that I did yesterday and today. I mean, I have plans. Don’t we all? To save more, earn more, do more, see more, consume more, spend more, be more. But, sometimes my plans seem more like quiet sails of hope versus the furling winds of preparation and arrangement.

Life After Alzheimer’s Disease

One thing is for certain, I’m probably going to live long enough to see 50, but my father will not live long enough to see me see 50. And, really, I couldn’t care less if people like ironic T-shirts or not. They’ve never been more than an over-the-counter drug to ease the pain that life can bring.

For as long as I can remember, my father has wanted to return to the sea. I wish I understood what he has been missing all these years. I believe in his beautiful reward.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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1 Comment

  1. jen

    @TINA – Thank you so much for leaving a note. Ours is a weird little place, isn’t it? I always have the same question: Collectively, what made us the way we are. I had a boss once who said all PR people find the same things funny. It seems mostly true of the Xers I know as well. I hope you’re doing well!!

    Reply

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