Guillermo was born in Puerto Rico in 1952. He is one of 14 children. He is the only one who went to college and had a career. He served 28 years as a Corrections Officer in New York. This is my father and he has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
For the last 8 or so years I have seen my father go from forgetful to unrecognizable. Alzheimer’s has taken a man I’ve always known and made him a complete stranger to me. Unfortunately, I’m also a stranger to him. It hurts like you wouldn’t believe. I knew it would happen, but you’re not ever prepared for it. I don’t think I’ll forget how I learned he’d forgotten who I was. We went to visit him and I asked him if he knew who I was, if he knew my name. He couldn’t tell me, he couldn’t even say that I was his daughter. I fought back tears, smiled and enjoyed the rest of our visit together as strangers.
My father was a very strict, traditional, and typical Puerto Rican father and I hated him for it. I realize he did the absolute best he could as a widower with two young girls. All he wanted was the very best for his daughters, to see them succeed. I can not see myself in his shoes. There are so many things I wish I would’ve done before he got to this stage, mainly have a wedding. Now, I will never have my father walk me down the isle or have our father-daughter dance. Yes, he is still here, but is he really?
I believe he’s in the middle stages now. He can’t be left alone, ever, and can only string 3 coherent words together. What isn’t coherent is stuttering, as if he’s looking for the words to say but can’t find them. He has also started speech and physical therapy. It’s hard to believe it’s going to get worse. My stepmother, his only caregiver, has been a saint during this difficult time. I know it’s been so hard for her, I can’t imagine watching the man you love totally disappear. She absolutely loves my father and I am so grateful for her. I wish I could do more to help and support her.
I have watched the movie Still Alice. It’s about a woman who has early onset Alzheimer’s. We watch her deteriorate over time and how her family deals with it. It is not easy to watch someone go through this. I’ve kept my pain and thoughts about my father mostly to myself all this time. I mostly try not to think of it, I don’t let my mind’s eye go down all the possible roads of what late stages of this disease will look like for him. I can’t even read books about it (and I love to read!). I’ve gone as far as check them out of the library, but I can’t read them.
Since I learned I became a stranger to my father I have been grieving as if he is already gone. I know this is a normal reaction, but It still pains me to see him in such a state. The once determined, successful, almost tyrant of a man has been reduced to a baby in an adult body. Its heartbreaking. Thinking on what the final stage of Alzheimer’s will look like for him has me scared. This disease is terminal and will take his life, although I believe that part of him is gone already.
My childhood memories with my father are not filled with sunshine, flowers or butterflies. It was quite the opposite. Regardless, my heart aches to see him like this. To have the very essence of who you are taken away from you is inhumane. My daughters won’t have the chance to know either of my parents. It’s an all around terrible circumstance that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. I’m hoping to step out of this with peace in my heart.