Everyone says I look like him and as I get older I see it more. It’s hard not to take it as a compliment because the man was a handsome devil. He came of age during the height of Elvis and it is hard not to notice a resemblance between the younger version of my Dad and The King.
I don’t see myself in photos of my Dad when he was younger. From a time when he exuded a cooler than cool vibe that was more James Dean cool than Elvis.
Or an impish boy.
I don’t see me in these photos. It’s not until he gets older that I begin to see me in my Dad. And even then I struggle to see our resemblance reflected back to me in photos of him. But that is likely my own perception messing with what I see in those photos. I am not seeing me in those photos. I just see my Dad, not me.
The trait of my Dad’s that I think is the strongest in me isn’t visible in the mirror, but is the sound I make when I clear my throat. It’s really odd, I know, but Dad used to do this kind of half cough to clear his throat that had this unique sound. The first half of the clearing sound was at a lower pitch than the second half giving it a distinctive sound. A sound that I unconsciously mimic when I clear my throat.
It is a totally subconscious thing, too, so it sneaks up on me out of the blue. I can be working in the garden and clear my throat – and suddenly I hear my Dad clear as a bell. One minute I am not thinking of him, the next it is as if he has inhabited my body for a split second the feeling of his presence is so strong.
I saw him Sunday. I went to his care home to visit. I brought some TimBits. I liked to bring him treats as he has always had a sweet tooth. We sat at the table in the common room, open box of uneaten TimBits on the table between us. I thought it was odd. Despite the Alzheimers taking his memory of who I am away a long time ago, he always seemed to remember how good those little donut treats tasted and would never hesitate to gobble them down.
As we sat there and I looked at my Dad hunched forward in his wheelchair I thought I could detect sobbing. It wasn’t unusual for him to get emotional when I was visiting, but this time the sobbing seemed different. More strained.
He looked uncomfortable in his wheelchair, half slumping half sliding forward. So I went behind him, wrapped my arms around his chest under his arms and gently lifted him up so he was sitting in an upright position. I heard him say “Thank you”, the first coherent and understandable words I have heard him say in months.
I wheeled him back to his room where I pulled out his small box of Christmas decorations and began decorating his room. He loved Christmas. No, he really loved Christmas. Our house was renowned in our small town for the elaborate Christmas displays he would set up each year that often spilled over into the neighbour’s yards. It was easily his favourite time of the year. So I tuned his radio to the station playing all Christmas music and set up a small tree for him with some decorations around the room.
After I finished I wheeled him back out to the common room, chatted with his caregiver for a few moments and then said goodbye to Dad, who had fallen asleep in the wheelchair back in front of the uneaten box of TimBits at the table. I told the caregiver that if anyone wanted one they could help themself because Dad didn’t seem to have much of an appetite for them today. And then I left.
Wednesday afternoon I had just dropped my son off at school when my phone rang. It was Dad’s care home. Dad went down for a morning nap and passed away peacefully in his sleep.
I sat in the car in the parking lot of the high school and tried to cry. But for some reason, I couldn’t. Maybe inside I was happy that my Dad, my strong Dad who loved nothing more than being outside at his cabin, fishing on Chitek Lake, or puttering on a million projects in the garage, and who had had these things so cruelly taken from him in the past few years as Alzheimer’s made his world smaller and smaller, was finally free. I rationalized my inability to cry at that moment because I have had many small moments of grieving in the past 4 years since his diagnosis, watching him slowly slip away bit by bit.
So I just sat there as the minutes clicked by, unable to cry. I called my sister and told her. Then my brother. We all agreed to meet at his care home in a few minutes.
After calling them I sat in the car in the high school parking lot for a minute more just gathering my thoughts, preparing for the hard work ahead. I pushed the button to start the car, went to put it in gear to start driving. I cleared my throat. And started to cry.