It was only 3 months since I last saw my dad in his Florida home. At 93, he was physically fit. Good posture. Strong hand grip. Dad even showed off a few of his old dancing step routines.
So when I visited him again only 3 months later, I was shocked.
I suspected something had changed even before I knocked on his door.
When Iris and I pulled up to the Boca complex, my dad wasn’t on the 4th floor front catwalk, waving at us and laughing, as he usually did.
When we entered the apartment where dad and my step-mom lived, we saw a very different person. Dad could barely stand up. He appeared so fragile. So weak. Taking tiny steps to move his body forward.
First I asked dad why he was standing and walking this way. He still managed to force a laugh, and said something like he was doing the best he could.
I was shocked at his condition, I was surprised that I was never told of his rapid decline. I spoke to my dad every day. I spoke to his wife everyday. I spoke to his caregiver every day. There was never one mention of dad’s inability to walk.
After taking a deep breath, I began speaking to Gerry, his wife, who had completely devoted herself to dad with great love and affection, and to his very kind and attentive caregiver, to find out what was happening. I was told that dad had lost most of his ability to walk.
It was then that I realized I had to get more involved in my dad’s care. The communication had somehow broken down between me and his primary caregivers.
So I went into action. Remembering how dad and I loved to take walks and sing songs on the catwalk, we went to the local surgical supply store and purchased a wheelchair. We could still take our walks.
We set up doctors appointments with the usual line of specialists, and the diagnosis was severe dementia. They didn’t believe it was alzheimer’s, which was probably more important to me and my siblings than to dad.
In the months that followed, we noticed a rapid decline in dad’s cognitive abilities. He could no longer speak to me during our daily calls. His language turned into gibberish. He did manage to get out one coherent sentence that I’ll never forget.
He said I don’t now what I need.
I knew I had to take a different strategy, so I used the most powerful tool in my tool box. Something that my dad had given me when I was 12. My guitar. Although dad had lost his ability to speak, he didn’t lose his ability to sing with the correct lyrics. I could remember calling him from my mobile phone, standing on Madison Ave in front of my office in NYC and singing songs. He loved the tune- Hello Dolly- So I would sing- Hello daddy, then he would sing back to me, hello Jaimie. I could still hear his voice.
By August of 2013, on his 94th birthday, dad’s dementia finally won. He could not move. He could not eat. His system was breaking down and he needed round the clock care. The family made the decision to put my dad under hospice care which turned into a blessing.
The two families got together and had what I would like to call a music intervention. We circled my dad’s hospital bed and I was playing guitar, the rest of our family were playing rhythm instruments. We were singing, laughing. Sometimes dad looked engaged and smiled and gave us a thumbs up. Other times he looked like he was in a fog. Then my step-brother started singing and my dad looked up and gave him a thumbs down to suggest that he was off key. We still laugh about it today how our music was able to penetrate the thick fog and shine a light.
My dad gave me the guitar when I was 12. My mom encouraged me to practice. We all sang together when I was young. I will be eternally grateful that I was able to return the gift of music to my dad. The ultimate gift.
A day after Valentines Day in 2013, my dad passed away with a smile on his face.