Friday evening I was sitting with my computer while the TV was on in the background. One of the channels that specializes in re-runs of old TV series was airing an episode of “Cheers”. Wow! What memories it brought back. “Cheers” was always one of my dad’s favorite shows. Even after the show was no longer in primetime we’d sit together most evenings and watch the re-runs after the 10 pm news. Sometimes my sister and I would just hear Dad laughing while watching it in the other room. Sad to say for years now he doesn’t even remember any of that, but we remember it for him.
While watching the show I paused to think about how much I enjoy those memories with my Dad. It impresses on me how much the little things really mean. It wasn’t a big deal or major event to watch that TV show with him all those evenings. However, it was something we both enjoyed together. Back then it didn’t seem like anything really special, but now I see it as something that still reminds me of the man he was. We move through life so fast sometimes that we fail to take note of the little things. We tell ourselves that one day we will have time. We plan for the big moments or big events, but sometimes in so doing we overlook that the little moments making up each of our days are just as valuable (if not more so) as the big events. When we take a little time to appreciate things we find much more joy in our lives.
My step-mom always makes me smile when she talks about my Dad. Nearly every time I ask her about him she makes the comment that he truly brings her joy. That may seem like an odd statement coming from the wife of man in a nursing home with dementia. However, f you ever visited my father, you might understand it better. If you met my step-mom, you would too. She’s very good at appreciating the little things. I’ve learned a lot from her about that. I’ve learned it from my father too. How you may ask? My father’s life is very simple these days. Thankfully, the dementia while robbing him of his memories and thinking abilities has also robbed him of worries, anxieties, or cares. He has his simple daily routine, and he is completely content with it. He doesn’t talk much at all anymore and can no longer complete his puzzles. He still likes taking his walks though they are somewhat shorter now. He still likes watching cartoons on the television. Though I’m sure he understands what he is watching. He still seems to recognize my step-mom though he doesn’t recognize anyone else. Perhaps it is her faithful daily visits that keep him knowing her. Our family has come to appreciate the little things we still have with Dad. The man he was is no longer there and wishing for things to be different will not make it so. Dwelling on what he could be like without the illness won’t help any of us or him. We’ve had to learn to enjoy him as he is now. Who really knows what goes on his mind? All I can say is he appears content with the little things and to still recognize and appreciate his wife. He enjoys our company when we visit, and doesn’t seem to worry about anything at all. In fact, we joke that the lack of worry and stress are why he has barely a wrinkle on his face despite being 72 years old.
Over the years watching the progression of my father’s dementia, I have also been astounded at the complexity of the human brain. I find it very ironic that a disease which diminishes the brain’s capacity can also reveal its enormous potential. Previously I assumed (very incorrectly) that dementia always follows a certain pattern or course in patients. However, there are numerous forms of dementia and even the same form can affect different people differently. It is also intriguing to watch a person’s brain deteriorate in certain ways, yet retain skills in other areas perfectly. Here are a couple of examples.
My father has always, always, always been left-handed. Even when he was a child and they tried to get him to use his right-hand, he never did. In light of this, do you notice anything strange about this picture? He is holding the spoon with his right hand! He was eating perfectly fine using both hands. Maybe it is just me, but I find this fascinating!
Nothing too astonishing here…I just found his fancy pinky finger lift entertaining. (& no I have not tasted the thickened water in his cup. The very idea makes me gag, but he doesn’t seem to notice it and never has. It is thickened to reduce the choking hazard as his brain forgets to coordinate the swallowing process as consistently as it should.)
I should have also taken a photo of his chair inside the room. Notice how his feet are lined up in the two square tiles on the floor. His chair is a straight line into the room from those tiles. He walks slowly and carefully, stepping into each tile square in the row until he gets to the chair or turns to the bed. What is impressive to me is that before he even enters the door he makes sure that he is in the right set of squares that line up straight to the chair. I wish I could have him explain why? What type of thoughts are going on there? Whatever form they take they seem to be still very analytical and precise. Again, fascinating.
I will just sum up here with a reminder to enjoy the little things in life. None of us are perfect. None of our families are perfect. None of our lives are perfect. However, we all have at least some things in our lives that can make us smile each day if we take the time to notice them. Take note of these things and attach importance to them. Then something as simple as a TV show re-run can bring back a flood of fond memories.