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  • DeborahLK

    I know that my father is not unique in having had to commit his wife to permanent institutional care. He tried for at a decade to keep her at home, despite her increasing dementia and accompanying personality changes. But finally, several months ago, he allowed her older son to take her several hours' drive away and institutionalize her there. Now he mourns her, but there don't seem to be support groups near him to help spouses who are not widowed and yet, in most of the ways that matter, really are.


    I believe Dad needs some kind of get away break. Most of the time he has struggled with losing Nancy, he has also had to endure well-intended bossing around by my siblings and Nancy's oldest. They treated him as though he were the one "losing it." They accused him of denial. They have talked to him and about him as though he were 8 instead of 85. They have tried to make him dependent, and haven't worked out much compensation for his losing his driver's license.


    They don't seem to recognize depression or to consider it a major medical issue. So Dad's increasing withdrawal has not been discouraged, and he has been yelled at for his sadness.


    Yet until Nancy's decline, he continued his medical practice, walked the dog, cared for the other pets, set up a beautiful garden backyard, visited interesting sites, took the dog to the beach, and in general lived actively and productively. This is the man who gave me my first guitar, who encouraged my love of Broadway musicals, who taught me wondrous secrets of nature like where to find ripe blackberries and how to view the stars through a telescope. 


    He he taught me to think, to analyze, to listen to symphonies, to devour literature. He showed me how to care for the dog and how to cut the grass. He built me toys like a circuit board on which I could activate lights or doorbells and a "climbing house" that resembled a giant wedge of Swiss cheese (but painted in primary colors). We put tubes into radios and televisions, and we repaired my bicycle.


    My father taught me to look, to see, to wonder, to marvel. Sometimes to ask questions. Sometimes to just take whatever happened. He made me see beauty but also understand real ugliness (like injustice in our very Southern home city). Now, although he lives in California and I in Alabama, I want to help him to somehow recover that joy to which he introduced me. I want him to know comfort and true companionship and to rediscover his sense of awe. 


    To get him away from the restrictive and judgmental setting in which he now exists would give joy to both of us. My father needs and deserves a break.