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Documenting the Memory Loss

As several months passed after the visit at Christmas where dad first overtly exhibited signs of mental distress, we watched closely to see what else would manifest itself. It became evident that dad was not capable of handling the family finances at tax time. It’s not like there is a lot of money to account for, but dad had always been meticulous with his finances and records. We barely made it through the tax season, trying to find lost receipts and papers. The hardest part of this time was the fact that my dad grew up in a generation that did not discuss their private business. You didn’t air your dirty laundry in front of everyone. Until I took over the finances for them last year, I had no idea how much money they had or didn’t have. So because of this private nature, it was hard to figure out exactly what was going on. My mom is not the most reliable fact person and the situation scared and intimidated her. She very much resented the things that dad could no longer do and were now thrust upon her. She did not take the role reversal very well.
One of the benefits of living in a small town is that you have the same doctors and pharmacy that you have had for years. I wrote down meticulous notes on the things and changes that I had observed and emailed it to dad’s doctor. I immediately got a phone call from him asking for more clarification and the beginning of a diagnosis of dementia. That is the scariest word that I have ever heard. But my sister put it into perspective, at least it is not Alzheimers, which brings more physical issues with it. Since then I have done tons of research to educate myself as to the difference in the two, the symptoms and unfortunately the lack of treatment for both of them. We set an appointment for dad with his doctor and I told him that I would always be there to go with him. (we all live two hours away).
In a span of a couple of months, everything in our life had changed. I prepared questions and did research to get ready for his doctor’s appointment. In the grand scheme of things, it was relatively uneventful. The doctor had dad take a short verbal memory test. He asked him a lot of questions. He asked my mom and I even more questions and in the end, the diagnoses was dementia. (He did a lot of blood and urine tests to rule out a physical cause and scheduled him for a scan/mri with a doctor in Greenville). But what we came out of that doctor’s office with was a horrible diagnosis and not much hope that there was anything to do to change that. Dad didn’t say much, mom was trying to figure out how all of this would affect her and I got out of sight and cried most of the way home.


My Dad’s Farm

corn-field I was raised on a tobacco farm. The farm belonged to my great, great grandaddy. My dad was born in the house next door, where my grandparents still lived when I was born. My granddaddy was born in the big house in the field behind out house. It was still standing when I was little and we used to go and explore in it, but it was no longer liveable. My dad was the next to the youngest child out of 5 and the only boy. You would have thought that he and my granddaddy would have been really close, as he was the only boy, but I never got that impression. Dad had an agronomy degree from NCSU and he had lots of ideas on how he wanted to help to improve production on the farm, but my granddaddy was not open to suggestions. After a rocky couple of years (which I do not remember, as I was too young), Dad went to work with Cargill as a seed salesman. After a couple of years of that, dad returned to farming. It was the one thing that he truly loved. We grew tobacco, corn, soybeans and peanuts. Tobacco season consumed us. That will lead to several other blog topics at a later time. In all of dad’s confusion now, the one thing that stands out to him and he tells everyone that he sees, is that the farm is one of the few in NC that is an officially declared Centennial Farm (been in the same family for over 100 years). He has the documentation and plaque to prove it. When he gets around anyone, he will tell them about how there is going to be a presentation and a dinner to honor the farm (that actually happened about 30 years ago). We don’t correct him, we just tell him how wonderful that is and how proud we are. And that is the truth!

My Dad’s Mother

tobacco-field.jpgWhen I was in third or fourth grade, I was awakened in the middle of the night to find out that my grandmother, who lived next door to us, had been rushed to the hospital. I never did find out what occurred that night to warrant the trip to the hospital. Over the few days, I was told that Mama (my grandmother) was very sick and had been transferred to Dorothea Dix in Raleigh. At the time, I did not realize what kind of hospital that was. We went several times to visit her, but were never actually allowed in to see her (that I remember). I remember sitting on a bench outside and being scared of some of the patients that were being walked around by nurses. Later, my grandmother was transferred to a nursing home in my hometown of Washington, NC. She never came home again and she was never the same again. Years later I found out that she probably had blocked arteries or hardening of the arteries, which at the time was diagnosed as mental issues. My tiny little grandmother was subjected to electrical shock treatments. I was never able to watch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest without thinking of what horror she must have endured. She later died of stomach cancer, which I didn’t learn about until much later. I also never found out for sure what role my father had to play in helping to get my grandmother to the hospital and then to Dorothea Dix. I just know that it had a tremendous impact on him. Mental issues and memory problems terrified him. For years he served on the Mental Health Association Board in Beaufort County. He also volunteered for Alzheimer’s studies conducted by Duke University. Therefore the onset of dementia and the recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a particularly cruel trick to play on him. At this point, I’m sure that it bothers me a lot more than it bothers him. That may be a good thing. But I want to use this forum to jot down memories as I remember them now, as a tribute to him. Every time I go to see him, he has slipped just a little further into his own little world. But he’s my dad and I will keep all of the memories that he has helped me make, alive and recorded for his greatgrandson and greatgrandchildren yet to come.