on parents & aging

I generally have a policy of not writing anything on my blog that might potentially offend anyone in my family. I envy the bloggers who are willing to put it all out there, no holds barred, but that isn’t me. Most of the people in my family don’t read this site, but it’s not anonymous and they could find me easily enough, so I try to be careful.

That said, I’m about to write something here that might get me in trouble later. And I don’t care, I need to get this off my chest.

My mom recently had all of our old home movies burned to DVD, and she made copies for me, my brother, and my sister. Today I’ve been playing around with the files to make short little snippets that I can stick on YouTube. I keep watching this one – a trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast when I was around 6 months old (when my sister was almost-6 years old and my mom wasn’t even pregnant with my brother yet) – and I keep crying when I watch it.


A little bit of me is crying because I really miss both of my grandparents. My dad’s parents. I wrote a little about my grandaddy here, and I haven’t written much about my grandmother. She died when I was 20. I don’t really know what to write about her. She adored us – her three grandchildren – and we miss her.

Another little bit of me is crying because my mom does that thing she does in every home movie we have, which is that you only see her for a split-second (in this case, at the very end of the video), and she waves the camera away. She always thought she was too fat and ugly to be filmed. I wish I could go back in time to tell her how gorgeous she was. And I make a vow to myself to be in more home movies so Catie will grow up and know what her mother looked like when she was in her 30s.

Mostly, though, I’m crying about my dad. He looks so young in that video. I don’t really remember him ever looking that young. (Although, he still has those farmer’s tan lines, courtesy of his thrice-weekly golf game.) I think of my dad as always having looked like this.

Catie and Pop-Pop

And I’m crying because I don’t remember him ever beaming at me with that new-dad pride that he has in this video. That’s the kind of adoring look he gives Catie. I didn’t think it was ever directed at me. To say that my dad and I have a difficult relationship is an understatement, but I’ll leave that for another post. I just really hate that I don’t remember that look.

My dad is 73. For the past couple of years, it’s been obvious that his memory is slipping. It keeps getting worse. I don’t know if it’s Alzheimer’s, or some other form of dementia, or maybe he’s having small strokes (he’s suddenly been having headaches, which he’s never had in his life). It’s impossible to diagnose because he refuses to admit any of it to his doctor. My mom is a wreck about it. Last year, she called his doctor’s office and told them to do a neurological work-up on him when he went in for his annual physical. The doctor refused. If my dad won’t seek help for himself, and the doctor won’t help, what other recourse is there?

Just as a few examples, in the last couple of years:
* He forgot where a major street in my hometown is located. He’s lived there for the past 39 years.
* He & I had a major blow-up fight last September, which he’s forgotten entirely. I guess I should be glad he’s forgotten it & isn’t holding a grudge, but it’s also frustrating that it got us nowhere.
* He took Catie for a walk in our neighborhood by himself, and he didn’t pay attention when she said she wanted to get down. She tried to squirm out of the stroller, and she ended up getting stuck with her head caught between the seat & the snack tray, while my dad obliviously kept pushing the stroller until she started to scream. He panicked & didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, a neighbor came along just then & showed him how to remove the snack tray so he could get her out. But she could’ve been really hurt, and that’s when Dave & I realized my dad can’t take Catie on outings by himself anymore. Which breaks my heart.

The latest thing is his cousin. My dad is an only child, but his cousin Sue (who everyone calls Bee-bee, and don’t ask why, I don’t have a reason except that we’re from Mississippi) is the closest thing he has to a sibling. Bee-bee has been very ill for a long time with a number of health problems. She’s spent months in the hospital. We’ve known for the past year or so that she could die at any time.

Bee-bee recently went into the hospital again, and this time, things look really bad. The doctors aren’t terribly optimistic about her prognosis. Her daughter called my mom to give her the latest update. When my mom got off the phone and repeated the news to my dad, he was stunned. He didn’t remember that she’d been sick. Now he has to grieve this loss all over again. And when she inevitably dies (whether that’s next week, or next month, or next year), he’ll have to grieve it all over again, because he will have forgotten. Again.

I don’t have words for how upsetting all of this is for my family. I’m not terribly close with my dad’s side of the family, but of course my heart breaks for all of them. For Bee-bee’s husband of 55+ years (they got married as teenagers), for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. But especially for my dad.

I’ve decided that Catie and I will be flying to Mississippi for Bee-bee’s funeral, whenever that may be. I feel like I need to be there for my dad. It’s all I can do, really. I just need to be there.