“Dad, it's me, Mike. I'm your son. You know me. You know me.”
The skin on Dad’s hands was dry, cracked, and marked with scars from years of physical labor while working in a machine shop. When he wasn’t at work with a wrench, he spent his weekends hammering and building the handy man special we fondly called home. Helping him on this solemn morning, and watching his hands, I was flooded with memories of my Dad and childhood.
“Hold still for a second, I almost have it,” I said. Dad dropped his hands to his sides. I slipped the knot closer, making it a little snugger, just the way he liked it. “Perfect, Dad.” Normally, he would have felt the tie to make sure it was as it should be. Instead, he said nothing, glancing nervously around the room.
A moment passed, and then he caught my eye. “I can't thank you enough for helping me today.” After a short pause he added, “But I’m embarrassed to ask . . . how do we know each other?”
Stunned, I stammered, “Dad, it's me, Mike. I'm your son. You know me. You know me.” I said it twice, firmly, trying to will him to remember me.
He had been growing increasingly forgetful since he had been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years earlier. But misplacing his glasses and forgetting whether he had taken his medication wasn’t even in the same ballpark as forgetting his own son. I was scared. I wondered how he felt. The pit that had started to form in my stomach immediately grew into much more; I was overcome by a sense of desperation. Not feeling fully confident, I tried to reassure both of us: “Don't worry Dad. You’re just having a bad day.” But what if it wasn’t just a bad day? What if this was the moment I lost him forever?
Throughout that entire agonizing day, not knowing if he would come back to us, my brother, sister and I watched our dad go through the motions of a funeral. He was not sure why he was there, but he knew that he should have known. At one point, I noticed him sitting at a table alone after talking to my aunt and writing intently on a napkin. I wondered what he was doing.
Later, after he’d walked away, I looked at the napkin that he had left behind. It read, in repeating lines, over and over, “Sons – Mike and Jack, Daughter, Kathy. Sons – Mike and Jack, Daughter, Kathy. Sons – Mike and Jack, Daughter, Kathy.”
That night, Dad and I shared a hotel room near the funeral home. He took out his dentures, used the bathroom and went to bed without saying a word. The next morning, he was back, but he had no memory of the prior day or that his brother had died. But he remembered me.