Driven by Love

| April 07, 2005

Mom laughed and said, “I remember thinking your father’s going to love this conversation, and I told you to give him a call.”

“He was thrilled and taught me to drive. Once I got my license, I gave my notice; he arranged it with his company and I jumped into his tractor. I can’t believe it was four years Dad and I ran team all over North America. He taught me everything I needed to know, from backing up to the docks in Montreal to delivering machines to the goldmines of northern Nevada. The equipment had sure changed over the years. We could hear ourselves speak without yelling. We actually had separate air ride seats and upper and lower bunks. I remembered he liked a late night coffee with a doughnut, and he remembered how much I hated mornings. We had a lot of arguments but even more laughs. Those were wonderful years.”

“Then you met Sandy and got married,” Mom said. “He was very supportive, but I think you made the right decision to come off the road when you got pregnant. I was always worrying about you swinging those chains around.”

“That’s called tying down the load, Mom, not swinging chains around, but you’re right. I would have hated for anything to happen away from home. It worked out well though; I’m back running local just like Dad did. It would break my heart to miss the girls growing up. Mom, how long has Dad been having these memory lapses?”

“For the first few weeks everything was fine, then, as he relaxed, it started. He would forget a turn, or forget the name of the campground we had booked,” Mom explained. “I think he’d been trying to control it for some time but as he unwound it started to show. While he was working he wasn’t around anyone for any length of time, so he could hide it. I think it’s getting worse.”

I just stared at her; I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed. My mother smiled gently and held my hand. “I didn’t notice either, so don’t feel too bad. You know your father, he’s a strong man, he never lets show what he doesn’t want to. I finally convinced him to come home and see the doctor. I was hoping you could join us. Your father will listen to you, and I would like a second pair of ears to understand what the doctor’s going to say.”

“Of course,” I replied, “let me know and I’ll book the day off. Do you need anything else?”
“No thanks, we’re all right for now,” she said. “I’m glad you’re near. I think we’ll both be needing you.”

We hugged and said goodbye.

Two weeks later, the doctor confirmed our worst fears. Dad had Alzheimer’s. We had been expecting it, but it was still devastating. We pulled ourselves together to listen.
The doctor explained the illness to my father. “There are many ways the disease manifests itself, but generally your short term memory will continue to worsen. As you progress, you will spend more and more time flashing on the past. You will have periods of clarity but those will become less and less. Try to exercise your mind and you may help to slow the progression. Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure.”

“I read about some new drug they are testing that is supposed to slow the onset of the disease,” I said.

“There are experiments going on all the time, but there is nothing approved for use yet. There is a lot of money being spent, but I am not hopeful anything will be available in the next few years. We’ll certainly prescribe anything that comes available. In the meantime, I suggest you study up on the disease to prepare yourself for the future. Good luck.”
We followed his advice and continued on with our lives.

Not much more than a year later, I sat on the edge of their brown couch, smiling at Dad in his faded recliner. He watched the sky darkening with early twilight. I glanced around at the paintings of nature scenes hanging on the walls as I listened to him talking to himself and laughing. I was now unable to share the joke or understand his train of thought. Looking down at his hand in mine, I softly rubbed it. I wondered if he thought about our life together as I often did. I wondered if he understood how much he meant to all of us, how proud we were of him.

Night had fallen, and the room was dark. I went to stand up to put on the lights and felt his hand faintly squeeze mine. I looked across into his eyes, and he gave me his old wonderful smile. Quietly he said, “I am very proud of you, Joan. You became a really good driver.” Through tear-filled eyes I replied, “Thanks Dad, I had the very best teacher.” He turned and faced the window, once again lost in his sea of memories.

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