When forgetting is a gift

Special to The Times

The caregiver is pictured on the news broadcast during a “feature” segment. He opts to care for his mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s rather than put her “in a home.” She is in her 70s and is functioning -- on her feet, bustling about the kitchen, albeit forgetting who is coming to dinner that night. He proudly announces to the television audience that “nothing is too good for my mother.” I shudder at the implication that I have just placed my father in an Alzheimer’s care facility -- after living with him for 12 years in our home -- because I didn’t try hard enough to keep him here with me.

The new and startling statistics are just in from the Alzheimer’s Assn. Someone in America develops Alzheimer’s every 72 seconds; by the middle of this century, that number will increase to one every 33 seconds. By the year 2015, the cost to Medicare for dementia-related care is expected to be $189 million. I turn to my adult daughter who has accompanied me to the facility and reassure her that should she need to do this for me someday, I will understand, knowing all too well that my father, during some random moment of lucidity, will not. I had always promised him that he would never go to “one of those places.”

But this very place is one that will bring him peace.

Like the heroic gentleman pictured on the news, I thought nothing was too good for my father, as well -- until nothing was good enough.

At 89 years old, he was diagnosed, his driver’s license taken away, his mind slippery to the degree that it could no longer grasp how to operate the telephone, fix a bowl of cereal or speak more than a word or two. When he became more and more agitated as he attempted to cling to familiar surroundings -- to the point that he required powerful anti-anxiety medications that affected his balance and made him fall -- I gave him the gift of forgetfulness. In a care facility, he was at last in an environment with no expectation attached to it. Some promises are not meant to be kept and should never be made.

In 30 years, I will be 85 years old. What will my daughters do if the medications in the works to either cure or stave off this frightful disease are not fully developed? My oldest accompanied me when we placed my father for care. Since that day, I tell her never to promise me anything; don’t worry if I need assisted living -- I will do just fine.

She too is able to see the blessing in the unfathomable notion that he might actually forget what we are all going through because he swore he’d rather die than have it. I consider that I should set aside the money starting now, so my children won’t have to worry.

I want them to remember that sometimes the greatest gift a child can offer is simply to let go.


Kathleen Clary Miller is a freelance writer in San Juan Capistrano.