A couple of times a year, usually in summer and in the lead up to Christmas, I replenish my father’s wardrobe with the essentials – vests, jumpers, shirts, trousers and socks. I won’t, and don’t expect to get any thanks for it. He doesn’t know me anymore. He will talk to me as he would a stranger, if he’s in the mood. Pleasant and vacant – the ‘spick and span’ Da in his suit and tie that I grew up fearing cocooned now in mysterious, cruel layers that are painstakingly consuming his former self.
I have this ritual of ironing his name onto everything, an important task as otherwise, it will all get lost in the wash of the care home laundry process. Even his socks will be labelled before I place all of it in his wardrobe, in the bright and clean en suite room that the independent rebel still fighting inside him propels him to spend as little time in as he can possibly get away with. He paces the corridors most of the time. Going somewhere inside his head. Going nowhere outside it.
This ritual, I’ll put off for days, even weeks, the new clothes, still bagged and tagged in the corner as each time I find it harder to psych myself up for it. And even when his name is carefully placed securely on each item, I know full sure that the next time I venture in to visit him, another ritual that grows more difficult with time, some of the clothes will still be hanging, unworn in the wardrobe, and I’ll be frustrated when I see him wearing someone else’s jumper, or track suit bottoms – the latter an item of clothing his former self would, I know for sure, prefer not to be caught dead in.
Such is the experience of living with Alzheimer’s, my father’s personality, his style, his essence, his basic autonomy, slowly devoured by this cruel disease.
I didn’t always see eye to eye with his former self – anyone who has watched my film IN RIBBONS may begin to understand why – but the man I knew then is not the man I know now. The process of watching him disappear to a state of mind that only he will experience but will never be able to communicate to another human being is a dismal, morbid process to witness.
And the rituals hurt like fuck.