It’s been a while since I’ve written about my travels with The Professor — or found the time to write here at all, for that matter. Despite my best intentions, I managed to overcommit myself during the first few weeks of the current school term, which put paid to any attempt to unravel the many complexities of the universe in this, my little patch of cyberspace.
Coronavirus and all its attendant concerns and controversies have made this mad world an even more perplexing place to navigate lately, and they have also served to highlight even more vividly the difficulties our family is facing as dementia slowly and inexorably claims my father’s brain.
Last week we received confirmation the resort we had planned to holiday at with our extended family over Christmas this year will be closed until April 2021. That tropical island getaway had been shining like a beacon of hope at the end of this crazy year, but now that the Trans-Tasman travel bubble has failed to materialise and the thought of any trips further afield has faded away, we are being forced to confront two realisations: one, that our Fijian vacation will, at the very least, have to be postponed; two, that the longer the borders take to reopen, the less likely it will be that the Professor will be in a suitably fit mental state to make the trip.
It still feels like a sucker punch.
So do the times when Dad gets stuck in a loop, and tells the same story over and again, despite every failed effort to deflect or distract or redirect him onto a new neural track.
Or when he has what we call “Alice Days”, and is alone, and sometimes flailing, in his own Wonderland, unable to recall how to answer the phone or what was said only minutes before.
I am grateful that he still delights in words — and wordplay, when he is able to — even if he does recite the same poem or witty ditty he learned as a schoolboy eleventy million times in the course of a single afternoon. I am pleased he still finds pleasure in reading books, despite borrowing the same volumes from the local library time and again because he doesn’t recall enjoying them only the week before.
Sometimes I grow weary of the slow grieving process that inevitably accompanies the Professor’s decline, of watching the ever-closing window and never knowing how much time or lucidity is left before it shuts.
I am utterly humbled by my mother, and am in absolute awe of her patience, compassion and devotion to the previously active and highly cerebral man who once anchored our lives, who now feels like he is floating above us, tethered only by interwoven strings of love and tenacity.
I try, as my mother always does, to meet the Professor where he is.
I hang on to the good days, when the repetitions are rarities, or when he’s not wandering through a mire of memories of times long before my birth.
I find it’s easiest for me to hold his hand on the Alice days, hoping he finds the same comfort in the familiarity of that simple touch as I do.
And most of all, I hope — fervently — that he is not undone by disorientation and distress as dementia erases the lines from the maps he has always known, forcing him into Terra Incognita as the charts fade, into the unknown.