My mother passed away last February. It was a difficult time for our family to say the least. It continues to be difficult nearly a year later. Her voice is still on my father’s cell phone. I heard it again just the other week when I was bumped to his voice mail and was surprised at my tearful reaction. Losing a parent is a draining and emotionally wrenching experience. She had been failing in health for some time so her’s was not an unexpected or sudden death. However, I have been through the sudden loss of a family member as well and neither way is easy.
When my mother finally passed away, it was with a grace and dignity that I can only hope for when it comes my turn. Among the myriad of tasks and challenges that death leaves in its wake, one was the prospect of moving my father across the country and finding a place for him to live near us. It was not practical for him to stay on the West coast when the rest of the family lived on the East coast. He has Alzheimer’s. This brings me in a roundabout way to the theme of this post—words. My father can’t remember words.
We are delighted to have him near us, and if there is any silver lining brought about by my mother’s passing it is that I have a much stronger relationship with my father now that he is close by. His Alzheimer’s is not particularly advanced. Since moving out East, my father’s condition thankfully seems to have stabilized. He knows who we are, he can care for himself for the most part, he remembers a lot, and he forgets a lot. The biggest curse of his disease is a deterioration of his grasp on language. He simply can’t come up with the words. A conversation can be a frustrating prospect for him.
Simple, ordinary concepts or words like “seatbelt” or “serving spoon” flutter away on gossamer wings keeping tantalizingly out of reach. He does a lot of pointing, gesturing and groping for words. I would find it very disheartening to know what I wanted to say but not how to say it. He used to enjoy speaking passable German but now he has trouble in his native tongue not to mention a foreign one. The saddest part is that he is aware of his situation. We try to fill in the blanks—a sort of perpetual charades game—and that is almost equally frustrating for him. He will finally throw up his hands and say, “forget it, it’s not important.” But it is vitally important.
Communication is a life blood. Deaf, blind, and mute people all have ways to converse. To lose the ability to express yourself is to lose a part of who your are. The way René Descartes put it was “I think, therefore I am.” I suppose that following on the heels of that might be “I am, therefore I express.”