There is a clarity, more than at any other time in life, that comes with a life threatening event or the death of a loved one. That clarity enables us to understand what is truly important in life.
It’s been three months since my beloved father passed away. Three whole months. In some ways it feels like yesterday, in others it’s as if it happened in another lifetime.
I haven’t grieved in the normal way. I’ve had a sense of relief and gentle acceptance since the day he died. I’m not in denial. I haven’t at any stage cried or wailed in grief.
For a while I thought perhaps it’ll catch up with me.
I’m not hard-hearted, far from it. I loved my dad so much and I hate that he’s no longer in this world. But he had a long and happy life. He lived life to the full and made other people’s lives better for having been a part of their lives. You can’t ask for more than that can you?
And so I’ve accepted his passing and I’m at peace with it.
However, the world expects us to behave in a certain way doesn’t it? Even I’ve been quite shocked at my lack of grief. So I did a little research on the subject and it was a relief to discover that I’m normal.
You see, Dad had advanced Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed just two years ago, but it was in his final few months that he all but disappeared. And during that time I grieved. It was horrendous. And in his final few days, when I rarely left his bedside, I felt as though I’d gone to hell. There is nothing worse that watching a loved one die. Witnessing the agony of a body slowly shutting down. It was my worst nightmare scenario.
So it came as a relief when dad finally left me. That sounds horrible, but it’s true.
In the few days leading up to his death and in the couple of days after the event, I wrote the following story. Perhaps I have been grieving in my own quiet way as it’s only now that I feel able to share it.
What’s important in life? Loving life and sharing it with those you love.
And in the process, helping others.
I sincerely hope that this story helps others who have loved ones suffering the horrors of Alzheimer’s.
Please forgive the lack of picture. There is no photograph or artwork that I could have created that would have adequately conveyed the feelings I had when I wrote this.
The Red Dragon
I approach carefully, slowly, timidly. The huge red beast ahead of me hasn’t yet registered my presence.
His appearance does little to calm my nerves. With knobbly uneven distressed scales, humps and bumps where once a smooth proud shinning armour existed.
He begins to move, turning slowly until he faces me head on. His huge head, towering over my own, is surrounded by spikes, sharp, some broken, all of them uneven. There is no comforting symmetry to his appearance any longer.
His eyes flash, catching my own curious, wary glances. Then their expression changes, the glare fades, softens, replaced by a glimmer of recognition.
The hint of a smile, no trace of anger or malice, encourages me to come closer. Inching forward, holding his gaze, I approach with more confidence.
He shifts his weight backwards and raises himself up to sit high on over his bent back legs. He now towers over me. I feel very small, defenceless, but drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
He opens his arm-like front legs towards me expectantly. Come to me they beckon.
And I do.
I go to him, allow his huge arms to fold around me, engulf me. And we hug for the longest time.
Peering through the tatty thin scales of his chest I can see his heart beating strongly still, clearly visible, glowing like molten gold.
I can feel it’s warmth. With every deep thud it makes, the heat rises sending warmth through both of us until I feel surrounded by his love, protected by its invisible shield.
He begins to slump and the warmth fades. His embrace loosens and I feel his arms drop to his side’s. Looking up into his eyes, I can see the recognition has vanished. Confusion has once more taken its place.
Gingerly, slowly, I back away, not wanting to cause any sudden moves that might cause him to panic, to become frightened.
I’m not scared of him, just of his illness and what it might cause him to do.
He often forgets who I am but he has never once hurt me. I am tiny compared to him, he could easily crush me, hence my care, my wariness.
You see, this huge, scary beast, this dragon with his sharp red scales all tinged with gold, is my father. I could never be frightened of him. I love him.
And I know that underneath the scary illness that plagues him, he loves me too.