On Saturday afternoon, as usual, Mum and I went up to visit Dad. The long stay NHS continuing care ward where Dad lives has three corridors coming off of the entrance area and at the end of each is a lounge. The patients can wander wherever they like although usually Dad is to be found in the Green lounge at the men's end.
However, on Saturday he wasn't there, so whilst Mum put away his clothes in his room, I went off to find him. I found him in one of the other corridors, trying to open one of the bedroom doors. During the day, the staff lock all the bedrooms, otherwise many of the patients would wander into the rooms and move possessions around.
For some considerable time, I have doubted whether my Dad really recognises me. He does recognise Mum however and, because I'm usually with her, I think he possibly recognises me as being someone he aught to know because I am with Mum. Whenever I wander off on my own to find him, I always wonder ...... will I get a glimmer of recognition even though Mum's not with me? In a way, it doesn't matter! After all, I recognise him! However, I do find myself hoping that he does.
As I approached him, in a cheery way I said 'Hello Dad. Are you OK?' You know, this 'cheerfullness' aught to earn me an Oscar .... but I digress!
He looked at me with an expression that I couldn't quite place. Was it bewilderment? Anxiety? Relief because he'd found a friendly face? I don't know. However, although Dad's ability to communicate is the one thing that is really failing, he quite clearly said 'Well, no in actual fact, I'm not'. Perhaps it was the expression on his face, I don't know, but all I could think to say was 'Let me give you a hug'. Dad hugged me so tightly it was as though his life depended on it. And I could have sobbed! Dad wasn't really a hugging kind of person when he was well ..... I'm thinking reserved Englishman here, from a time when men didn't show their feelings ...... so this was doubly poignant.
He then said something that I didn't quite catch. I think he said 'Thank you ..... I don't know who you are' ....... but I'm not entirely sure. My normal response to tricky situations is a flash of humour! It did occur to me to say 'Hope you don't go hugging just any strange women you meet that you don't know' ..... but I didn't. Not appropriate! I just said 'I'm Elaine, Dad. Your daughter. You'll be OK now'.
And I looked into his face and saw ..... fear? Yes, I think it was fear. He was now clutching my hands so tightly as though he thought I'd go and leave him.
'Come on Dad, let's go and find Mum. She's got some chocolates and fruit'.
He was holding on so tightly to both hands, but not in a threatening way, that we really weren't going to go anywhere. It really was like trying to comfort a distressed child. Eventually, I managed to just hold onto one hand and we walked back to his room.
Many times when Dad gets aggressive and lashes out, I have to confess to having felt angry with him in turn and to have felt that I don't like what he has become .... to actually not liking him! But on Saturday, I think I realised that when he gets angry and aggressive it is possibly because he is afraid and confused and, like a cornered animal, his response is to lash out. I have always wondered just how Dad sees the world; I guess I will never know. But the foggy world of Alzheimer's must be a frightening place and maybe I saw a glimpse of how Dad really feels and what a hell Alzheimer's can be.
In a way, I have written all of this so that, when Dad's behaviour when we visit is hard to understand, I hope I will remember how frightening and bewildering it must be for him and try to be understanding.