My Dad spent 20 years teaching math for trades prep at a community college. So when the geriatric neurologist asked, “what is 100 minus 7?” and he answered “97”, I knew something was not right.
My Dad loves math. As a mason, he lived and breathed applied math constructing and building impressive stone and brick structures to within a fraction of an inch.
I wasn’t at the appointment. My sister relayed the results of the cognitive quiz to close family members via Facebook Messenger. That in itself was its own source of cognitive dissonance for me. What fresh hell was going to await me in my Facebook feed when the algorithms mined this trove of personal information?
“Where are you?”
“At the doctor.”
“In what city?”
“In what province?”
A week later I am driving my father and his girlfriend through the scrubby brushland of northern Saskatchewan. The part of the province where the prairies give way to the trees. The liminal forest. We drive past the remains of a small prairie hamlet; a single lonely grain elevator surrounded by a handful of mostly abandoned pre-war houses. Like most small prairie outposts in Saskatchewan, a cemetery marks the past of what was a once vibrant farming community. It is the cemetery where my grandfather is buried.
“Dad, do you mind if we stop at Grandpa’s grave?”
I pull the truck over and get out at the small cemetery containing a few dozen markers memorials and headstones. The grasshoppers pop like popcorn around my feet as I walk to where my grandfathers grave is. I look at the headstone.
I have one incredibly vivid memory of my grandfather passing away in 1974. I am sitting in my Dad’s lap in a chair in the living room of our house in Regina. I am snuggled into my Dad, his arms wrapped around me. He is crying. It is the first time I recall seeing my Dad cry. The next time I would have that vivid a memory of my Dad crying would be almost 40 years later when my Mom passed away.
“Dad, when did grandpa die?”
“Oh, must be 14 or 15 years ago now”
I think I misheard. He must have said 40 or 50 years ago, right?
“I think it was 14 years ago.”
14. I heard it that time, clear as a bell.
His dementia has yet to be diagnosed. We’re in the stages of that now. There is clearly something happening.
I saw signs he was slipping when I was visiting him in Thunder Bay in the spring, but my Dad, like most Dads I suspect, has his share of odd and idiosyncratic behaviors and I, playing the antagonists part in a Harry Chapin song, glossed over what should have not been glossed over. I got irritated when I should have been concerned by his repeated questions of when I was coming and when I was going.
My sister saw it earlier. She raised a warning last fall. “He’s not the same,” she said. “He’s vacant. Not really here.” But I dismissed it as Dad being Dad.
But this is not about my sister, or even my Dad really. Those stories are theirs to tell and I have likely probably told too much. You get the wider context. What I need to do here is tell my story and how this is affecting me. Because the events of this summer have been affecting me and I need a way to process what I am feeling. The way I have done that in the past is through blogging. Writing. To find support. To commiserate. To connect. To process. To document.
I have always blogged as a way to remember. My mind is a tricky place. Memories get hazy fast.
Which is the psychological mind-fuck going on in my head right now.
Is this my future?
Speaking to relatives, there is some evidence that my grandfather also suffered from some form of dementia in a time when it was silent and unknown. It was just called getting old. And now my Dad. It’s hard to ignore the fact that a family history increases your risks.
Already I question whether what I sense in myself is psychosomatic or real. I forget things. My grasp of language, especially speaking to people, is halting. Hesitant. I sometimes blank and struggle to find the right word. My writing has become….less clear. I find myself withdrawing more, hesitant to take on things that are new or messy or complicated. I have felt my work slip, often feeling overwhelmed and stuck with where to start. Caught in the inertia of disorganization.
Is this happening to me?
Maybe it is the zeitgeist as I witness the minds of heroes of my generation conspire against them. I don’t know. I am sure that has something to do with it. What I do know for sure is that I have an appointment to see my own doctor in hopes of quelling the voices inside my own head. Hopefully to calm my own sense of anxiety.
In the meantime, the hard work begins with my father to ensure that he gets the care and support he needs. It feels like the start of a new chapter.