Updated: Oct 22, 2020
When I was a child I use to tell my parents (unasked, mind you), that when they got old I was sending Mom to live in a nursing home in Florida, and keeping Dad to myself in our Oregon home.
Yeah, I was a kid who earned my spankings.
As I matured my pride in being the son Dad never had faded, and I grew to revel in typical teenage disdain for both my parents. I was an adolescent even more arrogant in my thoughtlessness.
When I was 28 my best friend died of ovarian cancer. For 3 years she suffered the false hope of a cure, the ravages of chemo, the anger and anguish of processing a cruel, early exit from life while those of us around her vibrated with youth.
Young people with cancer do not die fast - their organs are strong, it takes time for the cancer to meticulously decimate them all. She had home hospice for 10 months - spending much of that time on morphine to battle the pain - leaving her incoherent, hallucinatory, and to my mind, frightening.
I did not visit her the last 6 months of her life. I was a coward and my remorse over that cowardliness has not diminished over time.
Four years ago Dad died fast. From diagnosis to death was a total of 26 days. We spent 21 of those days trying to build up his strength to get him ready for chemo until an ICU doctor finally told Dad that he had days, maybe hours left to live. We finally understood Dad was leaving us NOW. We were shocked, and I was, and still am, angry at time wasted trying to get him better.
It physically pains me to think of the moments I squandered on wellness, when what I really should have been doing was talking to my father about his life.
Instead I was urging him to drink Ensure.
Why? For f'ing sakes, with so little time left why was that my priority?
As his body shut down he was rarely conscious, had hallucinations, didn't speak. We brought him home from the hospital, and in less then 24-hours he took his final, laborious, gasping breath.
Over the last four years dementia has wrested much from our family. It robbed my mother of a cognitively healthy end-of-life. It robbed The Other Girl and I of the mother we could count on to parent us - and of our independence, our lives now bent to the relentless force of dementia. It robbed me of my budding second career and the financial stability I was finally achieving in my life.
But while flagging under the weight of its many burdens, dementia has also chased me down bearing unexpected gifts, and not just the little things like:
I guarantee you, I can now wipe an angry adult's butt faster than anyone else on the planet.
And while you never know when that talent may come in handy, it's not the greatest of gifts dementia has bequeathed to me.
Dementia has laid bare the depths of horrible I can sink to, and the noblest heights of virtue and compassion I have scaled, teaching me how to live in acceptance of both. A gift I didn't know I needed until it was upon me.
Dementia has also bestowed upon me an ocean's-deep empathy for others I did not hitherto possess, courage to confront and banish my cowardice, and time; time to repay my mother for all past transgressions, to forgive myself for choking on former fears, to gather up all the missed opportunities from Dad's death and shower them on Mom.
Dementia has granted me Redemption.
Cue the angels. I have been redeemed.