Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Visit with My Dad

By Martha Batista.  

It was a hot, humid afternoon in late June some 20 years ago.  I was particularly anxious that day, but overwhelmed with joy and excitement at the same time. I was standing in the vestibule of the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, right behind five of my closest friends. I peeked inside the cavernous church and saw hundreds of people standing and looking back at me.  Then, the organ and trumpets started playing a familiar tune and, one by one, my friends from years ago began to slowly walk into the church.  It was at this point that my legs almost gave out and I felt I would lose consciousness at any moment.  It was my wedding day.

Right next to me, holding my arm, was my father.  He was about to walk his only child down the aisle and hence, he, himself, was in an usually emotional state of mind.  I will never forget what he said to me in that instant, partly because it was sort of strange, but, more importantly because it gave me the courage to walk down that long aisle on that day and begin my new life.  He said to me, “You don't need to be afraid or nervous; you are made out of iron.”   I often thought about those words during the many years that followed that day.  Whenever I find myself in a particularly stressful situation, whether it is in my personal or professional life, those words have always given me the strength (as well as a smile) to face the situation at hand.

I have many memories of my dad like the one I just described.  My dad taught me many things that have shaped the person I am today: to have a positive attitude in life, be thankful for everyday, work hard, be honest and loyal, have opinions and views on issues that matter, help others in need, study and get good grades, take risks at work, be financially conservative, save money for a rainy day, be a life partner to my husband, travel as much as possible, learn new things, enjoy life, and many, many other lessons.

That’s why it’s painful, frustrating and disheartening to be with my father today.  My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 6 years ago.  This awful disease has been slowly taking my father away and leaving a mere shell of him behind.  My father can no longer give me advice.  He can no longer hold a conversation or participate in family celebrations or activities.  He no longer remembers the English language (he learned English in his 40’s when he arrived from Spain).  He no longer walks and needs help with all the activities of daily living.  He does not remember how many grandchildren he has.  He does not know what city or state he is in.  He does not remember that his mother died in the 1970’s, and often asks to talk with her on the phone.  The list of things that my father can no longer do is very long. 

But the absolutely worst part came not too long ago.  I was helping my dad get into my car, and as I was putting on his seatbelt, he looked into my eyes and asked, “Where is my daughter?  I have not seen her in a while.”  I cried.

I knew that moment would eventually arrive; the day when he may no longer recognize me.  But nevertheless, it tore my heart apart.  At that moment, I thought about what he said to me 20 some years earlier, “You are made out of iron.”  And then I realized that although he could no longer be with me intellectually, I was so grateful for the life lessons he gave me when he could.  Words I cherish today.

That day, I learned to not take one moment with my loved ones for granted.  My father now lives in a wonderful residential assisted living care home in Scottsdale.  He is confused most days but he is still amazingly happy and pleasant.  I am thankful for that. I find time to visit my father every day; because I know that whatever condition he is in today, it will be worse tomorrow.  

My dad, about 1 year ago, at his Assisted Living home. Always with a smile on his face.