Father’s Day and my birthday always fall close together. Some years they are the same day. That always made Father’s Day an extra special time in our house as I was growing up.
I was, of course, an adult and mother by the time Dad had the surgery that threw him into dementia for the following decade. However, my adulthood didn’t shield me from the pain of missing “my real dad” when I’d bring Mom up to the nursing home and we brought cards and flowers.
As with all celebrations at the time, we were pretty much going through the motions. We were not going to stop celebrating this day for fathers just because Dad didn’t really understand the significance of it anymore.
Mom would ask me to order yellow roses for his room. Yellow roses were something they both treasured (I kept the local florist in business during those years by ordering flowers from each of my parents to the other). I’d also pick up Father’s Day cards for him - one for me to give Dad and one for Mom to give him.
During the last years, Mom also lived at the nursing home, so that made the visit easier in the sense that I only had to pick her up from her room and guide her down the hallway to his private room. However, those celebrations were always bitter sweet.
As with most people with dementia, Dad had his relatively good days and his horrible ones. The horrible ones could be that he was so “out of it” that he may as well just sleep, or he was so delusional that there was no way he could even comprehend or notice that we were trying to share something special. He may have been dealing with a war in his mind where he had all the responsibility - what did flowers have to do with that?
Occasionally, the stars would line up well and he was neutral. I’d be able to prep him as he sat in his recliner. I’d lay out the cards, go and get Mom, and we’d make our way to Dad’s room. I go through the ritual of all celebrations - handing him cards and reading them to him. Father’s Day was less painful in that respect than days aimed at Mom’s pleasure, as I didn’t have to try to convince him to hand Mom a card. Still, where was the joy?
Somehow, we caregivers have to feel there is a reason for what we do, even if we are the only ones who “get it.” For Father’s Day, I had two good reasons to celebrate. One was for my mom’s sake. It was a ritual she needed.
The other was for me. Dad was my dad no matter what. We celebrated his fatherhood even if he was sound asleep. He was my Dad to the core. I am much like him, physically, mentally and emotionally. I needed to honor him on this day whether he could comprehend what I did - or not.
When Dad died in my arms, I felt him back with me - whole for the first time in a decade. Whatever shape our spirit takes after physical death is not something I ponder. I feel him with me yet, on this Father’s Day. I love you Dad and I always will. Happy Father’s Day.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.