I’ve been thinking about my dad these days. He died almost a year ago, from Alzheimer’s. The very idea that Alzheimer’s got him really sticks in my craw. He should have, I don’t know, become so increasingly austere he turned into a slab of granite. That would have been a more fitting end. He should have read so hard that he turned into a cloud.
I’ve been trying to write an essay about how I miss these two versions of my dad: the pre-Alzheimer’s guy and the one who showed up once the disease had its hooks in him. I may still. But I don’t know, it just reads like “I liked Alzheimer’s Dad because he told me I was pretty.”
But it’s true! Dave Bradley before Alzheimer’s was not into compliments, as a rule. He was affectionate and generous in many ways, but stingy as hell with compliments. He accused me once of fishing for one. I was nine years old. Forty-something years later, and I haven’t forgotten the humiliation of it, of being told that my complaints about my haircut were merely a ruse.
Still, I can’t help but feel guilty about the pleasure I felt when, on his death bed, he looked up and exclaimed, “Oh! You’re beautiful!” His suffering was so acute, at that point, and I was beaming at him. Beaming! Well, beaming and crying, and then he started gently slapping at my face, saying, “Hey. Stop it. Stop that.”
But that was the Dave Bradley that I knew with Alzheimers: he had lost so much, yes, but there was something of his essential self that was still there. What was gone was his edge, the part of him that was biting and caustic. What was left was this sweet human who was delighted by everyone around him. What was left was the person who, when I asked him how he managed to stay married to my mom for over 60 years, replied, “Oh, I’d say love, primarily.” The Before-Dad would have made a joke, but this guy!
I liked this guy, damn it. I didn't like the suffering and the lost-ness and fear and I didn't like what Alzheimer's put my mom through and I certainly didn't like how it ended up killing him, but there was something there that felt like ... I'm not going to say a gift, I won't do it. But grace.