This illness imposes restrictions on us that demand not only that we adapt ourselves, but also that we adapt our relationships with those we love. As always, we only have ourselves to count on when we have to decide how to confront life. In my case, I always aspire to live my life in the most positive way possible. My relationship with my father has evolved to the point where the only tense we use is “present simple”: the immediate present, the here and now. My father doesn’t like it when we ask him what he was doing just before I arrived, or what plan he has for this afternoon. Not even when we ask him about plans, which will come soon, inside of his routine. He doesn’t like questions like this because, he says, he feels as if he’s being evaluated, tested. I also can’t ask his opinion about any current issue because even though he spends time sitting in front of the television, he doesn’t really listen to what they’re talking about and doesn’t follow what the people on TV are saying. For him, it’s nothing but noise. He’s gathered up inside himself, in the depth of his thoughts where he feels his distress or his fears which lead him to repeat over and over “Oh God, oh God…” as if it were some kind of litany. When I’m with him, we share the peacefulness and joy of spending time together. I see him at lunchtime. I sit with him in the dining room and I watch him eat. I ask him if he enjoys what he’s eating. I mention that the dish that he has in front of him looks delicious. I compliment him on how well he looks, on how he’s dressed. And I tell him that I love him.
I learnt something years ago… I realized that I have to enjoy the perfect present, the present of health and happiness, so as not to say, “Oh, if only we’d done it when things were better!” My father reacts well to my compliments and my smiles. In those moments when he does express anguish, I simply look at him with a comforting smile, with the hope that his bad feelings will vanish. After that, he finishes eating and we go for a short stroll to his bedroom, so that he can have a nap.
My current connection with my father is “emotional”. I don’t find any particular situations where I feel “more connected” to him.
These days, body language and touch have become more important than words in communicating with my father, with patience and tranquillity. When I go to see Dad, I can’t be in a hurry because he needs to take his time for simple tasks: eating, going to the bathroom, going to bed. He does everything slowly, parsimoniously. Sometimes, when he’s walking towards his bedroom, he wants to stop at the nurse’s station just to say hello and tell them how wonderful they are. For him, that’s important.
Right now, the present is most important. Before that, it was the future. We studied and we were educated to be good people, capable of earning a living in an honest way. We looked to the future. Now, the future and the past don’t exist in our relationship. It’s the present; the here and now. Being together, having a good time together and continuing to live together is what his new condition has brought us. The nuance that makes all the difference is the appreciation of the present, which, so many times, got away from us as we were planning for the future or complaining about the past.
As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making plans”. My father’s current condition helps me to value the present, to value living.