Fading Photographs: National Alzheimer’s Awareness and Family Caregiver’s Month Blog Tour

6 Nov 2014 Ruth L Snyder

My dad was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago. Since my dad’s father had dementia, I understood some of the grief families experience. However, just because I mentally grasp what’s happening doesn’t mean it’s any easier to deal with the grief.

104-year-old Batswana woman. Photo taken by Rex Beam
104-year-old Batswana woman. Photo taken by Rex Beam
Making millet into flour. Photo by Rex Beam.
Making millet into flour. Photo by Rex Beam.

I have many happy memories of times with my dad. Ever since I can remember, he and I have had a close relationship. He was the one I ran to for comfort when my little-girl heart was breaking. We spent hours together in the darkroom, one of his favorite haunts since he was an avid photographer. Dad showed me the exact combination of chemicals required to develop each picture. I watched as each piece of photographic paper was immersed into  chemicals and different shades of black and white magically formed to create a unique image.  One time, he even used the bathtub to develop an enlargement of a beautiful African sunset. My dad worked as a printer, but photography made him come alive.

I spent my early years in South Africa and Botswana, where my parents served as missionaries. As I remember, my dad made sure to keep his camera close at hand, capturing  and documenting our activities. Our family had the privilege of participating in many adventures most people in North America know nothing about — touring diamond mines and watching huge truckloads of dirt and rocks being transformed into handfuls of precious stones, observing craftsmen transform chunks of mahogany wood into candlesticks and other beautiful curios, spending holidays camping in game reserves, seeing African animals in their natural habitats, and gazing in awe at the magnificent thundering Victoria Falls. My dad still has a small treasure trove of black and white photographs he captured one at a time on rolls of Kodak film.

When my dad was first diagnosed, I didn’t see much evidence of the dementia. He forgot things occasionally and seemed confused a little more often than usual. However, he still played tennis, enjoyed going for walks, sang in his church choir, served on the church board, and actively participated in groups. He also enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren and playing games with them. He continued to capture memories in picture form, but he had graduated to a digital camera and his own photo printer.

As months passed, I started noticing changes — withdrawal from conversations and a lack of interest in activities he used to enjoy, like choir and Bible study. Some changes were so gradual that I didn’t even notice until many months had passed. A year ago my mom asked me to come and help pack so that my parents could move into a senior’s facility. The changes in my dad became clear to me as I spent several days with my parents. Dad sat in his favorite rocking chair and watched as my mom and I worked around him. He seemed detached from the situation, almost like he was watching from a distance instead of being directly involved in the move. He did what he was asked to do, but he didn’t take the initiative to do anything he wasn’t asked to do. In the evenings, he sat and watched TV, refusing to play board games with my mom and me. Mom said, “Dad no longer uses his computer. He still takes pictures, but he doesn’t remember how to download them.”

I said, “I can transfer the images from the memory card to a computer.” I was shocked by how many images were fuzzy. Inside I wept. My dad is just a shell of the person I once knew.

The next day I helped my mom sort through items my parents brought back from Africa years ago. Dad was in his rocking chair, seemingly oblivious to the goings on. As I sorted, I came across several large black plastic envelopes, which I knew contained my dad’s pictures. I picked up one envelope and slid the pictures out. Memories came flooding back. As I flipped through the pictures, I became aware that my dad was standing beside me. Soon he started talking to me and reminiscing about events depicted in the images I held in my hands. The pictures were like a doorway to the dad I knew before dementia robbed him from me. We both enjoyed our trip into the past. I watched in wonder as the hazy look I had grudgingly accepted as normal disappeared from my dad’s eyes. We talked about our trips to game reserves and his eyes danced with delight. I smiled as I remembered the way he used to demand we all sit absolutely still in our Volkswagen van while the shutter on his camera clicked. It seemed a pittance to pay for the treasured pictures, which now reunited us for a few short hours.

Carving a candlestick. Photo taken by Rex Beam
Carving a candlestick. Photo taken by Rex Beam

I know there will be difficult days ahead. At present, Dad’s eyes still light up when I walk into the room. I know some day this will no longer be true. My dad’s decline has reminded me that I need to treasure each day, each moment. I have also been challenged to count my blessings, to savor the good memories I have, to connect with Dad on his good days, and love him no matter what. Dad may not sing in a choir any more, but he told me this summer he’s looking forward to singing in Heaven. We share a hope no person or illness can rob us of — spending eternity together with Jesus Christ in Heaven where there will be no more tears.

 

Caregiver's month

Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Caregivers Month Blog Tour

President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. At the time, fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s; today, the number of people with the disease has soared to nearly 5.4 million (Alzheimer’s Association, 2014). The Author Community of Helping Hands Press is getting involved this month, and hopes to help raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

Staring Nov. 3rd, with Anne Baxter Campbell’s blog post and Sue Badeau’s appearance on blogtalk radio, and finishing on Nov. 25th with Mark Venturini’s blog post, many of the authors in the Helping Hands Press Community will be sharing their personal stories.

Who are the authors, their blogs and what days?

Check them out! Here is the list:

10 thoughts on “Fading Photographs: National Alzheimer’s Awareness and Family Caregiver’s Month Blog Tour

  1. Avatar
    Patti J. Smith

    Ruth, your post brought tears. I too watched my mom fade away and it’s not easy, but God gives us the strength to persevere. Even when my mom had those days of not knowing anything or anyone at all, I am convinced she still held all she loved in her heart.

  2. Avatar
    Bobbi Junior

    You know this is a topic close to my heart, too, Ruth. I’m glad you’ve drawn attention to the fact that there are doors we can sometimes open to share these momentary blessings with someone who has dementia. Photos from the past, music from their early years, stories they may have read over and over all have the possibility of opening that door just a crack.

    People want so badly to have ways to reach out. You’ve given us direction. Thank you.

  3. Avatar
    Richard L Allen

    Ruth,
    This was a wonderful description of the gradual progression experienced by those with dementia. It’s great that you and you dad still connect occasionally. Thanks for also sharing the memories of you youth. It looks like you grew up in a joyful God-centered home.

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