As a child, I can remember my dad keeping me entertained by doing spot-on impressions of Woody Woodpecker and Donald Duck. I remember having giggling fits over his quacking ability. It was these moments that made me close to my dad when I was a small girl, but at some point we drifted apart. For the life of me, I can’t remember around what point that began. I think it was gradual, perhaps a girl bonding more with her mother as she approaches adolescence. At least I can still remember these warm moments with my father from my childhood before my dad drifted away in another sense as Alzheimer’s consumed his mind.
As his dementia progressed, there was one more impression he did that sticks in my mind in a bittersweet way. He was at the point where he could still communicate, if not always coherently. But he was trying desperately to hold on to his sense of humor, that core of his personality that made him human. So he mentioned something about Johnny Carson, and how much he had loved him. (That part was true. He always worked the swing shift and would get home in time to enjoy a late dinner, a beer and some late-night television.) He then began doing an impression of Ed McMahon’s famous introduction: “Heeere’s Johnny!” As repetition is common with Alzheimer’s patients, he continued to repeat this refrain throughout the evening, in inappropriate moments while we were out in public. My mom would try to hush him but I could see a look of delight light up his face that both pained and warmed my heart.
About two months later, my dad had a medical emergency that sent him to the hospital for two weeks. During that time, his life was saved, but his sense of humor, along with the rest of his personality, was extinguished. He never returned home after that, and was on a series of medications at the nursing home that sapped any remaining vitality out of him.
So I hold on to these precious memories of my dad. Alzheimer’s can claim so much of a person, but it can’t take their past, because that was also experienced by their loved ones.