While I Was Gone
My dad doesn’t remember me.
My sister is one of his caretakers while he slips away in the confining abyss of Alzheimer’s disease. Last month she composed a very brave email to my brother and me to let us know the rate at which his disease is progressing. Her stoicism included the fact that one of the gloomiest particulars about the advancement of this god damn disease, is that he no longer knows who I am:
“One of the very saddest parts is that he doesn’t remember who Kellie is. He opened your Father’s Day card and didn’t know who it was from or who you are. Jan had to explain it to him. As close as Kellie and Dad had been in the past, its been stolen from his memory.”
For three days, I cried.
For three days, I prayed.
Then, I started to grieve for my Dad who is still physically in this unchanged realm of my own existence. Because of this insidious disease, I will be grieving him twice.
Let me now introduce you to the irony of this misfortune.
My alcoholism is also insidious. While the progression of my disease was slow, and there is a cure available as long as I am willing to work my program, it also has the power to rid me of my own remembrances. During the last four years of my active drinking, I was lured into a form of wine soaked senility.
I went away, emotionally and cognitively, for about 10 years. TEN YEARS. That is more than half of my youngest daughter’s life. It includes geographic relocations to Utah and Montana. It consists of seeing both of my girls graduate 5th grade and move on to their middle and high school years. One divorce. Two job changes. Self employment. Six different homes. Did I mention TEN YEARS?
Eighth grade is when I took my first drink. I just never stopped. The disease didn’t turn on me until around the time of my divorce, nearly eight years ago. My afternoons were drenched in red wine. Weekend mornings were always met with mimosas, and on football Sundays, the party started as soon as my feet hit the ground. In the back of my mind, I always thought MAYBE I was drinking too much, like a “heavy drinker,” not an alcoholic. Eventually, those same worrisome, yet neglected thoughts, morphed into “maybe I should cut back a little bit, because what if I ever have to stop drinking completely?”
I couldn’t let THAT happen.
Meanwhile, life around me was evolving. Family was moving, aging, living, and dying. I was in a cocoon of isolation. I avoided contact with just about everyone I love, except those that drank like me, or worse than me. Sharing the camaraderie of this habit. Seeking solace in finding others that had a problem worse than my own. Then I didn’t have to hide, like I chose to do from the rest of my world.
So here I sit, wondering, as I am instructed not to do. Avoid getting hung up in the what if’s, should of’s, and would of’s. Live now. In the moment. Take it like this… life on life’s terms.
I can’t change how my alcoholism progressed. Or my lack of acknowledging it until I hit bottom. All of that past was necessary for progress I make today:
*“I will not regret the past nor do I wish to shut the door on it.”
Yet, I can’t always push the thought away. What if I had been present for my Dad, and everyone else alike? Would he remember me now? The far away memories like holding my hand and running so fast up the driveway that my feet left the ground. Strolling the beach at dusk with his arm resting on my head as we walked; I was so short. This was a perfect armrest. The night he left our family home and came in to kiss me good night and good bye. Trying to have the “sex talk” with me when I was a teen. It was awkward, but he did his best to warn me about boys. Walking me down the aisle. Holding my babies when he was scared he would drop them.
My memories go on for infinity it seems.
His no longer do.
I am realizing that even though he may never again recognize that I am his “peanut” or his “baby,” I am blessed with beautiful memories of an amazing father. I am grateful that he is still here for me, even though he started to disappear…
…while I was gone.
*AA Promises; Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.