New Mama Musings

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Memory and Forgetting

I've written about my dad before. His dementia was diagnosed the year Henry was born and has progressed to the point that he doesn't know who my sisters and I are. He has no memories of our childhoods, or his childhood, or my parents' wedding day. He assumes my mom is his wife because they live together and because he's been told so.

He was an abusive father, a bitter and angry man, but in his forgetfulness he's become more sensitive and appreciative. Ironically my mother thought he was wonderful before, if a "little gruff" at times, and has no use for him now.

My sister who lives next door to my parents has been working for my mom taking care of him so my mom can escape -- I mean, get out of the house -- for a few hours almost every day. Every once in a while my dad will say something interesting to my sister (who he thinks is just the neighbor lady), but the other day they had a conversation that made my sister sit straight up and start writing down everything he said.

* * *

My dad walked into the room and said, "You know what I've been doing? Thinking about Donald E. [his name] and what a bastard he was."

He said, in reply to my sister asking how he knew this, "I saw a copy on the visit stand when they were working on him. He was cussing and swearing in anger. I think there were some pieces left behind someplace. And I wonder sometimes, was he really that bad?"

When my sister asked how he knew he was bad he said, "I heard it from Geri [our mom], I think."

My sister asked if he was just remembering this now and he said, "No, I've known this for quite awhile. I wonder how bad he was? That was quite a trick there -- instead of leaving the guy there you just change him. They probably had him tied down...wait a minute, that was me. I know that the doctor used medical materials to do it.

"And I wonder what the real guy was like? Was he really as bad as Geri said he was? I've seen some pictures but I don't know why or where they were doing the surgery. Maybe some things did slip through. You wonder how many times they've done this to [other people].

"It's my understanding that that Donald was a bastard, a real meanie, so that's why they got me instead [pointing to himself], the mild Donald. When they had him he swore like hell, cussed, tried to fight his way out of the hospital."

My sister asked if he'd like to know everything and he said, "I'd like to know but I also don't want to take it too far."

* * *

Almost a year ago my dad had surgery to remove an eye after an infection developed following an operation to remove a cataract. My sister thinks he believes that during that procedure the doctors changed his personality from the Donald who was a bastard to the mild Donald. And in reality, he didn't cuss or try to fight his way out of the hospital.

My dad's comments may have been precipitated by the events of the previous day, when my mom had a nurse from an adult day care center come by the house to evaluate my dad. He doesn't want to go and he said to my mom, "What did I ever do to you?"

I know that my mom would never have told my dad he was a bastard, since her M.O. is to converse with him as little as possible, and also because she doesn't think he was a bastard. But I wonder if maybe, in his own way, he's examining his life and it's easier to attribute his characterization of his former self to my mom rather than confront it directly.

Is it possible that in forgetting almost everything he knew, my dad is able to realize the truth about who he was? I had thought that it was too late for any revelations, but my sister said our dad's tone conveyed regret.

And somehow, in the smallest, saddest way, that offers us both a measure of closure.


  • as i sit here nursing my newborn, i read this post, and send you love, send my new daughter love, and embrace this moment in time.
    thank you.

    By Blogger mb, at 2:43 PM  

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