Saturday, May 30, 2015

Waltzing On Memories

"A tribute to Dad. He set me onto the business of electronics."
What if your memories are not meant just for you?

My Dad is turning the corner on his 80th birthday smack dab in the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Even so, he still has lessons to deliver. Recently, he and Alzheimer’s have taught me to rethink the role of memories in our lives.

Have you grown up believing you are banking away memories for some time in the future, when you will sit and replay them like old movies to keep yourself comfy and warm in old age?

Do you relate to the Jimmy Buffet line about aging, “He waltzes on memories while he fades like a flare” – it’s simultaneously melancholy and romantic.
It’s how I grew up thinking about growing old and more importantly, the memory banking activities of the younger life.

However, the disease of Alzheimer’s completely ignores such romantic notions. By the year 2050, some 15 million Americans are expected to be battling Alzheimer’s; a disease from which no patient has ever recovered. Alzheimer’s has furiously attacked and is crushing my Dad’s core logic and memory abilities; washing it all away with slow certainty.

I suppose if you are an optimist, you might find something positive in the fact that Alzheimer’s has enabled my Dad’s beloved Cincinnati Bengals to “play” twice as many football games in a season. Dad now views games as completely anew at the start of each half. He actually turns off the TV at the end of the first half, putters around the house a bit and eventually turns the TV back on to “game on!” By the final weeks of this past season though, Alzheimer’s has my Dad seeing instant-replays as whole new interceptions, penalties or touchdowns. And the actual outcome of the game? It’s just lost in a fog.

Alzheimer’s is eroding the memory of a business person, entrepreneur, mentor and father. A man, who was always up for a well-reasoned debate on current events, can’t remember current events. For a while, his memories receded to those from when he was in his business prime. And then, those memories receded further into ones from his teens and 20’s with stories of dating Mom, National Guard duties, and hot rods.

One favorite memory from that period involved an old Chevy, a long stretch of railroad track in the Ohio farmland, a hack to lock the Chevy’s throttle at a couple of miles per hour of forward motion, and a case of beer. It seems he and some buddies got the old car onto the railroad tracks, set the throttle, and proceeded to let it slowly bump its way over the railroad ties, letting the rails steer the car, all the way to the next town down the line, while they, of course, sat in the back drinking the beer.

Today, Dad’s memory is most comfortable with memories made for him by his mother and father; especially the early lessons of self-reliance he learned from his Dad, my Grandfather.

As I have witnessed the Alzheimer’s attack and realized with certainty that the man I love is fading away, I searched for lessons to be learned. Alzheimer’s is absolutely relentless and the result so sad to witness among the patient, the caregiver and the loved ones. Finally, a lesson seemed to emerge demanding to be pondered.

What if the memories you spend your whole life banking away are not meant just for you in your old age? Perhaps they are meant to be a gift of yourself to others, especially your loved ones for them to remember you by.

The very memories that are being washed away from my Dad are the memories I embrace to remember him by. Because, he’s shared so many tales and stories, I have lots of memories to remember the man before the disease.

Perhaps the lesson is really simple.

Live your life as large as you can and gather as many memories as possible. Do not hold them tightly for just yourself though; share them as a gift of your real self for others, especially your loved ones to enjoy.

Then, if you become one of the one-in-four over 50 years of age who are predicted to develop Alzheimer’s (and if a first-family relation has Alzheimer’s your odds are even higher than that), you will at least know (though you will likely forget) that your life’s memories have been shared and are serving those you love even as the disease ravages your mind.

I cherish the memories Dad. All the stories and the lessons they contained. It doesn’t matter that Alzheimer’s is washing away your own memory. You shared those memories and now (at least for now) I can remember for you. Waltz onward Dad with whatever memory remains as you fade like a flare.

I remember and I love you Dad.


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