Good memories, even in the midst of dementia

My 93 year-old father says he visits with his twin brother,, Dave, regularly in the woodshop. I picture them there, alike as two halves of a walnut. Surrounded by their projects, chatting and laughing over the buzz of saws, breathing in the sweet fragrance of sawdust and stopping often to clean their glasses.

They stay there for hours, Dad says. “Every so often, Mother brings out something to eat or drink.” Strong coffee, likely, and cinnamon buns. Or borscht or bubbat or some other delectable I’d recognize from my own mother’s traditional German cooking.

But Dad’s in a nursing home. His brother died about a year ago, his mother, about seventy.

“Sometimes,” Dad says, “Mommy (now referring to my own mother) comes to see me in my room. She never says much. Just sits right over there. She never tells me when she’s leaving. She just goes.”

Mom died three years ago. These visits with Uncle Dave and his mother and mine – real though they seem to him – occur not in the workshops he loved and still longs for, but in the dusty corners of his mind. They make him happy. Dementia, at least in his case, at least at this point, carries a degree of joy. And that makes me happy. For now at least, he’s in a good place. Not long ago, when I talked to Dad on the phone from my home two provinces over, he cried in frustration. Told me he was in jail, and that if only, if only, someone would slip him the key, he’d let himself out. Then he would buy a house, just a little one, and I could come and live there with him and take care of him.

I’m writing this the week after the death of country singer Glen Campbell. Glen battled Alzheimers Disease for years. He didn’t hide his growing confusion and people loved him even more for his courage. After his diagnosis, supported by his wife, Kim, he did one final tour for Alzheimer’s Awareness. It lasted far longer than anyone expected. He forgot song lines often, had to read them from a teleprompter, along with instructions as to what he was supposed to do next. “It says Glen will do a solo here,” he would read aloud, and got straight to it, his fingers tripped over the frets as though they had minds of their own.

Kim sent a blue child’s guitar with him to his care facility. Until he became unable, he entertained his fellow residents.

I wish I had more answers than questions about dementia; more hope and less concern for my own often-tired brain. But I am comforted by my faith in God’s ultimate goodness and care for his children; a faith shared by Glen Campbell and my father. This life isn’t all there is. When all we have left is the equivalent of a blue guitar or imagined visits with loved ones long gone, God is still faithful. And one day, we’ll understand.