You’re still here, Da, and I see you.

My Da turned 86 last week. His younger self would not appreciate his image being posted here. His younger self was a force to be reckoned with. Fiercely independent, intelligent, sometimes belligerent. We didn’t always get along. We didn’t always see eye to eye. That was his other self. The product of his own pain. That was my other self. The product of my own pain.

This is now. His basic needs are taken care of. He is safe. He is minded. But it’s not him. It’s difficult to visit. It’s difficult to see. But ‘seeing’ him is something I think about a lot these days.

Alzheimer’s has taken his essence, his opinions. His fiercely coveted freewill. His dignity. His independence. His arguments. His past. His now. His future. A fragile man, moving in the shadow of his former life. Shuffling in slippers, wearing clothes he can no longer choose for himself. Eating food he can no longer choose for himself. Taking medication doled out from prescriptions that he never sees. Pacing slower each time. Holding up the walls. Staring out from a life made small by a barbaric disease.

Memories, mind and spirit, locked behind an expression that does not recognise. That cannot read. That cannot concentrate. No reminiscence, no sharing, no conversation. All the things he cannot say. Just the fading slowly – a life in twilight, every sunset erasing another facet of who he once was. The tenement child. The Liberties boy. The eldest. The christian brothers student. The reader. The self-educator. The son. The husband. The father. The brother. The boxer. The drinker. The quick-tempered. The friend. The Grandfather. The Great-grandfather. The golfer. The printer. The father of the chapel. The man who worked for the newspaper. The Frank Sinatra fan. The man who worked part-time until he was in his 70’s. The daily suit and tie. The all his life clean-shaven and shoes polished. All of it, lost. No longer ‘known’. No longer ‘seen’.

But you’re still here, Da. And I see you.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Caroline is a writer and filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland, and author of the novel LADY BETH (Eric Hoffer Award Winner 2019 and Winner of the Carousel Aware Prize BEST NOVEL 2017). Writer and Director of the short film FRAMED (2018), she has also written and co-produced ADAM (2013) and the auto-biographical IN RIBBONS (2015) which has screened at festivals worldwide. Watch IN RIBBONS HERE

 

Dressing His Former Self…

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.