A family photo from March 2008 illustrates the beginning of my dad’s mental decline. There is a vacancy in his eyes, as if he’s not quite there with us on the couch, even though he’s gripping my hand tightly.
Dad most likely started showing symptoms of dementia in late 2007. It’s difficult to pinpoint dementia’s starting point, because often the symptoms at first are vague and not of concern until you step back to look at the bigger picture. He seemed more forgetful, conversations were a bit more awkward, but for the most part, he was still there.
I remember this photo clearly. Dad’s driving days were numbered, and we had just returned from a stressful, harrowing ride into town. We went to dinner and he was still able to order his meal and pay the bill at this time. Soon, my mom would have to place all orders and pay for them. Dad almost ran off the road as we were turning into the condo community my parents called home.
I was leaving the next day and wanted to take a couple of photos. Dad still had his bulky jacket on, a sign he was about to go outside for a smoke. At the time, I had no idea that this photo would be so revealing. It was the beginning of long, painful journey as my dad’s mind was destroyed by disease. We were still a family unit, but one of our members was vanishing, slowly but surely.