Last year, I lost my father. At that time, I wrote two articles in which I shared with the readers my experience with my father through his journey of the fateful disease of Alzheimer. I was quite overwhelmed by the degree of response it generated from the readers. From diplomats to doctors, from family friends and relatives to many people who tracked my number by calling the office of the newspaper – I was quite unprepared for the empathy and compassion the articles generated. The important discovery was that there are many out there who are having to deal with the ordeal of seeing their loved ones slowly succumbing to this illness which gradually erodes the cerebral functions. In a way, I ended up writing for many who probably through my words also had their own share of experience ventilated.
Life moves on and so do we, but some of the footprints in the sand remain engraved forever. When I lost my father, one of my close friends who had lost her father two years ago told me, “You know what? people will tell you that time is a healer and it will subside; but you will realize that with time you actually get even more closer to the lost one as every tiny little event and experience will keep on bringing him back to you.” After a year of my father’s demise, I realize how correct she was. Even in normal death, sons/daughters continue getting emotionally closer to their deceased parents due to the traces of bondage that keeps on revisiting them. Whether it is an early morning smile that no longer is there to brighten your day or whether it is a chat over a cup of evening tea – it trails you ceaselessly. However, in the case of someone suffering from Alzheimer the emotional experience is so intense that the impact tends to be even larger. Hopefully, my sharing of feelings after a year of my father’s loss will give courage and strength to those whose loved ones with Alzheimer are still around, but the inevitable will happen someday.
My father led a very disciplined life which helped him maintain a healthy physique even when the mind started sliding. From getting up early, to doing physical exercise, to timely going to bed – everything was timed around the clock. In the early morning, he would tend to collect the flowers that fell from the tree on the pavement leading to the front door of our house. When we came to the dining table for breakfast, he would come running with a bucket of flowers with a big grin sparkling though his joyous eyes. To him, it was like handing over the floral trophy to us from the mother nature. The tree still overarches the entrance of our house, but the empty bucket and uncollected flowers give a blank look in absence of a friend who probably touched their lives no less than he did ours.
In the morning hours everyone is little rushed - having breakfast, getting dressed, and on the run for the work. My father would sit there in the sofa with an appreciative look. If I managed to have a small chat before I left for work, he would be so happy that it would become difficult to leave him. The beauty is that inspite of his yearning for company, he would never request for once that I stay little longer or go to office little later. My father’s US doctor told me that for the Alzheimer patient the best medicine is the care and company of the family. Hence, what I started doing was to have him occasionally visit my office for a mid-day tea during which we had the father-son heart to heart chat. During those hours, I was amazed by so many untold stories that he had to share and his keen insights into family, people, places, and events. Since Alzheimer slowly weakens the individual, in a way it helps them start unfolding their inner feelings which they may not have shared in their entire life. Hence, if you have a loved one with Alzheimer, encourage them to speak out – you may be pleasantly surprised by what they may have to share.
My father lost his mother at the age of six but hardly spoke to us about our grandmother other than that she was a very pretty and pious lady from an aristocratic family. Little did we know how much my father missed our grandmother in his childhood until he started sharing more during our chats. He used to tell, “My son, childhood is a very difficult period for those who don’t have a mother.” Now whenever I come across any orphan, particularly those without mother, I see in them the shadow of my father and wonder what life must have been for him when we were not around to lend him the support he needed in those childhood years. Time and company from the family provides the Alzheimer patient the much needed window for ventilation of emotions that may have been suppressed for long. In my case, I made much spiritual gain after my father’s demise by coming to appreciate more his strength of character in successfully meeting the challenges of life during his formative years.
He took enormous pride in telling everyone that I did my MBA from the leading business school of US with scholarship and led an independent life. The bondage of faith, trust, and respect between us grew stronger as Alzheimer made us even more proximate emotionally. Something only my mother could understand best, being the closest to witness the peaking of a father-son relationship as the difficult journey was being treaded along.
Weekend late afternoons, I used to take my father for a car ride along with my mother. We used to drive in the city suburbs to have tea under a nice tree covered spot. I used to drive and he used to sit next to me and recite me his favorite poems. With time as he started forgetting the rhymes, I had to help him finish the poem and at the end when he could not at all recall, I recited the poem myself. When I used to recite, the glow of happiness sparkled in his eyes as he intently listened to the words that his heart could relate to but the mind had difficulty getting a grasp over. When I would ask him whether he was enjoying the ride, he would reply, “very much”. Then I would tease him by asking, “Should we now go home ?”, like a child on a fun ride unwilling to return home, he would reply, “may be little later”. In the last one year, in his absence, I have lost the charm of weekend afternoons and find more comfort in silent reflections than the noise of the roads that used to be overwhelmed by the poetic chat of a father and a son.
When I used to return from work, my father would cherish the pre-dinner conversation that we used to have. Although he used to repeat things, the patient listening worked magic by giving him a sense of empowerment as his voice was being heard by none other than his son. Sometimes he used to put his head on my shoulder and hold hands in silence. No words were spoken, but our souls could reach each other even if our voices were silent. Particularly, whenever I was going through any difficulties or was upset, he had this sixth sense to relate which I still find difficult to explain. As I now return from office, that empty corner position of the drawing room sofa gazes at me as helplessly as I gaze within myself.
The green, tidy, and small grass on my father’s grave looks as lively as my father was in the best of his days. Being on the lakeside - wind, water, soil, and plant join hands to create an ambience of serenity that stretches much beyond the immediate horizon. As I stand and try to come into terms that one year has gone by, suddenly time and space seem to have lost their relevance. We, tell ourselves, “Move on with Life.”, but it is one of those cases, where we may move but a part of our life does not. That part is too heavy to move for the sheer weight of the love and emotion of a father and son that it has been embedded with. Those who are still lucky to have parents around, please make the most of it while they are still there. Life is short and the next journey is long where we are on our own.