“Okay dad, just turn around and you can sit down right here,” I say as I pat an office chair in my dad’s bedroom.

He is standing and looking at the chair confused. Either he doesn’t want to submit to my directive or he can’t figure out that you need to turn around first before sitting down in a chair.

He’s been a little testy this morning since I woke up him up at 11:30 AM to take his medicine. I tried to rouse him as gently as I could and we have had a tug-of-war of wills through the morning steps of getting him dressed and ready for the day.

He is finally seated and now comes the most critical part, getting him to take about a dozen pills that my mom left for him in a plastic pill box. They are for high blood pressure, seizures, and who knows what else to help jog his memory or stem his anxiety. I’m happy to help her take care of him this morning so she can do some errands. He asks about her whereabouts repeatedly, usually not remembering her name.
I keep reassuring him that she went to the post office and will be right back. I hand him him a blue pill and go over each step slowly: pill first, next drink, don’t swish your water, just tilt your head back and swallow.
The noonday sun is streaming through the windows and I’m waiting for him to finish off pill one and go onto the next one. I’m waiting and wondering. Wondering how Alzheimer’s could have robbed so much from my father, a man who as long as I can remember was always up by 6 AM and ready to tackle a day full of challenges. Last month he turned 69 but he moves like he is a decade plus past that. He is losing basic reason, fine motor skills and the remembrance of the people who love him the most.
He has been in a good mood mostly since we have been staying at his home a few weeks this summer, with a house full of grandkids and some fun memories together. Well, I guess not really memories for him but for us they have been treasures of time.  This morning, however, is the most agitated that I’ve seen him.
We are on the last pill and I hear the garage door open. Though I’m glad I could give my mom some small support this morning, I’m relieved she has returned because he seems so nervous with me.  When she walks into the bedroom he looks even more relieved, like a kid getting picked up from daycare. He tries to ask her a question but has trouble with the words. He motions with his hands and she seems to understand just with his gestures alone.

I exit the room while mom takes over. As I walk down the hall it dawns on me: that was just a half hour of my life and it was emotionally taxing. But this is her life 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. And there are a lot of wee early hours in that day when he wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her something or ask a question.

A few minutes later she comes back out and asks me to come back in.  She says that dad has been crying because he didn’t know who I was and now he feels embarrassed that he didn’t know me and was even rude to me.

Mom and I go back into the bedroom together, and dad is lying back on the bed, crying.

“Dad, it’s okay you didn’t remember me. It’s really okay.”

He looks up at me and whispers a “sorry” through his tears.

“I should have told you I was your son.  My fault dad. I know that seizure medication you’re on affects your memory and I just forgot to tell you. That would be scary for me, too, to have someone in my room that I didn’t know.”

My mom massages his back while reassuring him. “Yes, honey this is your son and he loves you. You were a good dad to him, you coached his baseball team and you did lots of fun things together. You know him.”

Dad tries to pull it together and stop crying but he is having trouble. Mom keeps comforting him.

And she keeps on comforting him, everyday. She walks him through the routine steps of the day and assists him when he is having trouble, which is often. She reassures him.  She reminds him that he is loved in tender words and deeds.

My loud applause and deep appreciation to my incredibly caring mother and hats off to all Alzheimer’s Caregivers and Comforters.
 — Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate