Dad/Irvie turned 93 Sunday. It was a simple occasion. His food is pureed now, which sort of blows the whole cake ‘n candle thing out of the water. Alzheimer’s. Grrrr. Cake, candles, gifts and photos are just window dressing we can do without anyway. His needs are small. Our quest for dignity is large. We get that in huge doses, at the Illinois Veterans’ Home. They love Dad/Irvie, awake or asleep. And that is enough for me.
“Hi Dad!” is how it began. “Hi Babe!” he replied. “YES… this is good!” I thought. “He knows me today.” Rationally, and my sister, Cathy, reminded me, “He calls everybody Babe!” I know. He always has. He would walk in the bank and address his favorite employees, “Babe” or “Doll”. It wasn’t creepy, nor was it a slur. It was a term of endearment at many levels. The nurses say that when they get a “Babe or a Doll” from Dad in the morning, they know it’s going to be a good day. It’s more commonly called, his, “Once a week awake day.” Hence, he’s become known as “Once-a-Week-Irv.” It fits his former sense of wry humor very well.
I told him it was his birthday. He looked puzzled at the mention of 93. But the fact that he was awake to hear it at all was something. He sleeps a lot now, but he didn’t sleep through his birthday breakfast. And that was enough for me.
Cathy visited later. He was awake for then too. We considered this a good day. We tacked a couple of birthday cards on his wall. I’m not sure why, but in lieu of all the other birthday bells and whistles, it seemed like a festive thing to do, even though he can’t see that far, nor read anymore. Okay, it made little sense, but it’s hard not to mark the day with a little fanfare.
Cathy and I shared our visit experience and the agony of the Alzheimer’s process, not to mention the longevity. It’s not that I want him to go, but what is the purpose of his existence in this state? It’s confusing, heart wrenching and overwhelming. Then I pulled out of my you-know-what, this idea. I texted her. “I think that Dad’s final gift (or lesson?) to me to have patience with his situation. Everything runs its course for a reason, even if it’s not what we like or understand. Maybe his gift to you is to be stronger.”
She texted back, “Good thought…I’ll hold on to that.” So, look who’s giving the gifts on his birthday. And that’s enough for me.