“For you dad, I will forever be your little girl.”
I’m the baby in the family, and I am daddy’s little girl.
As I grew up and tried to rush into my own adulthood, I began to dislike this title. Ironically, I would give anything to hear him call me his little girl once more.
My dad is the kindest, gentlest, and most generous man I know. He is my core strength and the only “sure thing” I have ever had in my life. Regardless of what happened, and no matter what I did, he would surely be there for me. As a typical teenager, I took advantage of this. Always testing the boundary, and always knowing the end result. He would be there to love me and tell me how special I am.
Even when I knew I had done something wrong, my dad would find a way to say he was proud of me. This is unconditional love at its finest. I am so lucky to feel confident that my dad would always love me and always be there for me. And for that I am forever grateful that he instilled such a strong and stable sense in my life.
Although our relationship wasn’t typical, and our time together consisted of Wednesday dinners and every other weekend, my dad was there. Always. It annoyed me that he wanted to know everything about me, it drove me crazy when he would react so protectively; and I couldn’t stand it when he treated me like a baby. Now, I would give anything for him to treat me this way again: like a princess. Not royalty, but how a lady should be treated.
My dad is a victim of Alzheimer’s, either one of heaven’s cruelest jokes on mankind, or an invention from the evil down under. Alzheimer’s feels like a prank played on everyone who loves the victim and leaves us all fathoming if this is really happening.
The dad who raised me is gone.
The father who stands before me now is no longer my rock, no longer my confidante or shoulder to cry on. He is now a man that lives every day recalling memories from years past. Some of which I know are not truth, and other more familiar stories that I now question. He has told me some of the most beautiful, funniest, and most outlandish stories this past year—all starring himself. It makes me wonder if the stories he was telling me my whole life were in fact true. The stories I treasured.
I will never know if his memories are factual and years ago that may have mattered. But now, it doesn’t.
These stories are real to him. They are his memories, and faulty or not, this is what keeps him smiling.
And could my dad tell a story!
The kind of story that would leave everyone cracking up with laughter; not even because his story was humorous, but because my dad has the most infectious laughter. Like the laughter of a child who laughs so hard he needs to grab his stomach and lean over just to breathe. The kind of laughter that makes everyone want to join his crowd. He could engage anyone from a two year old to a 100 year old, with stories like those told about his rebel years on a motorcycle or his famous vocal performances on stage.
I have learned so much about my dad these last few months. He seems to favor his most dangerous memories, and times that he got away with something huge, like he held onto deep secrets and now can trust me with them. I will never know if these acts of danger are true—but they are true to him and that is good enough for me. No matter what decade he is in, I will be there to share his moment.
Upon his wishes, we planned a recent vacation with him. We made one special week all about him. My dad is a well-known enthusiast for the ocean so we cruised the beautiful Caribbean waters and, for the first time in his life, we went snorkelling. I share this because the experience left an imprint with me that I will hold onto for the rest of my life. An image that my heart will cherish with the deepest sadness, yet the utmost happiness to have witnessed.
We are in the middle of the ocean and he is floating in the clear aqua waters wearing the biggest and sincerest smile I have ever seen in my life. Almost childlike, his wide grin beaming as he tread water and took in the moment: a sacred moment with his family, his most prized possessions surrounding him, where he felt safe and loved—and almost normal again.
I’ve shed many tears and felt intense anger these last few years, praying endlessly for my dad to be brought back to me. I now surrender, just as this illness has forced him to do.
For those who can relate to the confusing cycle of emotion that this heartbreaking disease will create, I have found some solace to share. As I listen intently to my dad’s laughter when he talks of his younger years, I embrace each moment with him. Although he is a prisoner of this cognitive illness, he did have a choice; and the one he made allows his “little girl” to continue admiring him. My dad’s cognitions were captured and placed in a permanent time warp, yet he finds strength every day to refuse all the destructive and undesirable memories from returning. He released the negative energy. My dad chooses to cling to his happy, exciting, and stimulating moments.
I believe this is his final gift to my sister and me.
My dad was always one to inspire and help others. Now he has made his mark and allows us all to see that, regardless of the discomfort and misfortune that we may be given, we still have a choice.
And as I embark on this journey with him, a long and windy road trip through this progressive illness, I am so much more appreciative of the beauty of life. I feel the importance of not only spending time with loved ones but being mindful and truly present.
When I tell others that my dad has Alzheimer’s disease, the look of pity and sympathy is clear.
They may think my dad isn’t here to continue teaching me life lessons anymore, but I tell them his heart is still here with me teaching me how to live my life as the best person I can be.
“Dad, I am honored to be your little girl. I admire the strength and courage you find in each day. You taught me to be true to myself. I thank you for this, and I will always be true to you.”
Author: Kristin Devaney
Editor: Sarah Kolkka