Sharing the Load


I had a dilemma at my son’s recent bar mitzvah. The weekend was supposed to be all about him, the work he’s done, and celebrating family who’d been brought together for the event. It generally takes something like a birth or a wedding to get everyone in the same city at once so these are special times. At the same time, not having my father at the event was a challenge and could be a gloomy shadow at times. Given the state of his dementia, having him there at the service and party just didn’t seem feasible.

Of course, it wasn’t possible to tune him out either. There were several cases where he was at the forefront of my thoughts. He played roles in my older son’s bar mitzvah. Leading up to it, we nearly got in a fight over the guest list. I came very close to kicking him out of my house over confrontational behavior I just didn’t understand. At the time, I smoothed it over so it didn’t have a negative impact. This was almost certainly a sign of the undiagnosed dementia rearing its head though. There were plenty of positive moments too. There’s a part of the service which focuses on the generation-to-generation aspect which he wasn’t there for. And the last time, he was part of the prayers and celebration. Again, his presence was silent this time.

The last bar mitzvah three and a half years ago.
The last bar mitzvah three and a half years ago.
Part of my job for the weekend was to make a video chronicling my son’s first 13 years and that was impossible to do without my dad being in the pictures. Not that I’d have avoided it, but each time it touched my heart to see pictures of him with my boys. I’m sure I sighed a lot when putting it together. Right before I played it, I made note in a traditional toast we do to absent family members. I talked about what it would mean to him – a subject for a future blog – and then got on with the festivities. It felt appropriate but bittersweet.
To absent family members
A toast for absent family members. More on the watch later.
After the service and party, we had some downtime planned then a relaxed dinner out with 20+ people. I was exhausted but knew I’d be restless too. Fortunately, a couple of my cousins who’d come in town suggested we go to see my dad at the memory care assisted living home he’s at. It was effort but a relief too. I wanted to do it but couldn’t really schedule the trip. Interestingly, the bar mitzvah boy wanted to join us too. The four of us drove across town and I was the only one of us who’d been to see him since spring. My immediate family and several of my dad’s friends have seen him, but not extended family. I really wanted to fade into the background and see how it went.
The Family
There’s some people missing here but they’re still part of the memories.
We got there as my dad was finishing up dinner and sat with him for a while. What I saw was what I was accustomed to. Since my cousins hadn’t seen him in quite a while, it was new to them – and to him. He was very happy to see us but had to have the relationships explained several times. It was really something to see since one was his brother’s daughter and the other is his sister-in-law’s daughter. The first level connections had to be reminded then the next step to the people in the room explained.

I know this was a little rough for them but it was something of a relief for me. I’ve always cared a lot for my family and my cousins are special. We’ve talked about the situation before but they hadn’t really seen it with their own eyes. Somehow this experience made things a bit easier for me. Their visit gave me some backing that this isn’t just our own nightmare. Others who I love see it too.

After the visit, we drove to dinner with the extended family. We caught up and discussed trivial matters like religion and global politics. We finished out a great weekend with lots of smiles and memories. I learned things about my family I’d never known and reconnected with people I don’t see all that often. Time went  quickly but every minute was appreciated. It was also helped greatly by those who helped share the load.

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