Just 7 days ago found us on the road to Pennsylvania and to my dad.
Dad's beat the averages several times; most patients admitted to a dementia ward live about 18 months. Dad's well past that, and although the mental decline grows rapidly, he's a strong old man and a force to be reckoned with when he doesn't feel like complying. Having blood drawn or his fingernails cut invoke his wrath, but so does simply getting out of bed some mornings. The nurses and aides learned to read his moods years ago, and they know when to let him just be.
I never know which dad I'll find; I do know, with certainty that it won't be the one I grew up or the one I knew even 10-15 years ago. I enter through Wallingford's doors just hoping that he'll acknowledge my presence. During many visits, he's simply sat in his chair, not making eye contact, not saying a word, even when spoken to. Other visits, he's slept through, so I just sit vigil for a bit and then leave.
This was a "good" visit. I found him wide awake, a twinkle in his eye, and full of things to say. His voice is weaker now, and so soft, that we have to lean forward to begin to figure out what he's saying. Most of the time, it's sheer and utter nonsense, random babblings of a mind that's gone missing.
He talked, talked, and talked some more. At times, he was back during the time of WWII and on a naval carrier. Other times, he'd gone dancing and looking for girls. He proudly informed me that he never had trouble finding a girl since he could dance so well. And, when they got tired of dancing, they'd go walking and do "other things." Usually at this point, I'd try to distract him, because it's definitely uncomfortable to hear those exploits from your dad!
He informed Phil that he had some lovely daughters back in Parkesburg and invited him to come home with him and pick one out. Phil assured him he'd do so, and then turned and grinned at me.
Dad then turned to me, and softly said that the best thing he'd ever done was to marry me, and I knew that he thought I was my mother, so I sat up a bit straighter and really tried to hear what he was saying. In all his years since the stroke that accelerated his dementia and landed him in Wallingford, he's very rarely mentioned my mother.
And, then, he began to croon songs to me, mostly nonsensical words, but I rarely heard Dad sing while growing up, and I never heard him sing to my mother.
Did he sing to her while he courted her? I'll never know for sure, but I think he must have.
His voice shifted a bit, a subtle change, and as I listened I heard, "I love you, I love you, I love you."
I don't know what look was on my face; it must have been a mixture of sheer and utter disbelief mixed with happiness.
Dad was definitely a product of his times; he never said, "I love you" aloud. I knew I was loved, well and truly loved, but the words never got said, on his end anyway. Even well after I grew up, when I'd kiss him, he'd nod his head, and say, "mmm...hmmm."
I wish I had thought to record him, but I was so completely caught up in the moment, I just sat, smiled, and told him that I loved him back.
He'll never know the gifts he gave me last Friday...being present to me, his voice and non stop chatter, his talking of my mother. But, most of all, those words.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," he sang, complete with a few blown kisses my way.
Oh, Dad, I love you, too. Somewhere in the deep nooks and crannies of a mind gone astray, I hope you know that.
I love you.