What you need to know:
- For many of us, while growing up and all through adulthood, our fathers were the epitome of strength.
- They resembled that old oak tree in the village that has outlived successive generations.
It is a harrowing experience watching one’s father battle with Alzheimer’s, and other old-age related illnesses which wreak havoc on their memories. It is like watching one's father slipping through one’s fingers.
You want to help. But you do not know how to. You do not even know how to start.
For many of us, while growing up and all through adulthood, our fathers were the epitome of strength. They resembled that old oak tree in the village that has outlived successive generations. That oak tree that has withstood fierce famines and winds, and just shed its bark and continues occupying its place. That oak tree that has refused to die, even as other saplings around it come and go, you'd think it's sucking life out of them.
For many of us, we are not prepared of the eventuality of the oaks that are our fathers giving up their ghost, let alone - with a disease like Alzheimer’s - living in a semi-ghostly state. It shocks the living daylights out of us. Forces us to stop taking things for granted. It tells us that time is slowly and certainly winding up for our fathers.
We all want our fathers to die like Abraham. Old, strong, hale and hearty. The reality is, only a blessed few will savour such moments with their fathers. They will not know the pain of trying to relive memories with their old men. They will not know the sorrow and confusion some of us have to deal with, when our fathers do not remember our names, yet they are the ones who bequeathed us with the handles that have become our brand.
We are in dire need for a support system - and even group therapies - for folks who are caring for parents with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. Most times, society watches from the sidelines as caregivers go down with burnout. I guess neighbours too, though well-meaning, do not know how to handle such cases. That is, until it knocks on their doors and claims their Mzee’s favourite chair.
There is a Nigerian saying to the effect that, when an old man dies it is like a library has gone up in smoke. But when an old man is slipping through your fingers, it’s like the pages are being torn, one at a time, and being tossed on charcoal embers. You see the fire eating slowly eating through page after page, and you can do nothing about it.
What is even more agonising is the thought of that same fire waiting for us, down the line. We may not talk about it. Just the mere thought inwardly kills us. The thought that there is a chance that, if we live long enough and, like that oak tree add more rings in our trunk, the same embers await us.
If we knew what lies ahead, that old age would make us lose the use of our faculties, would we desire to die younger? Or would we risk it and say, snap, what has to be has to be?
We all desire longevity. But longevity comes with terms and conditions. Some of these terms and conditions are dealt to us by fate. They are like bullets that we cannot dodge. Bullets that were fired the moment we were born, and have been waiting for one moment in time to turn our lives upside down.
Life is a cycle. A good number of us will end where we started; being cared for by others. Being fed, bathed and clothed like babies. For some of us, we will have slips and falls. For others, our memories will slip through the cracks of time and, I reckon, only be recollected in full clarity and extra-sensory perception when, God willing, we are bequeathed with a glorified body on the other side of eternity.