Bursack: Chance meeting brings beloved Dad close
DEAR READERS:DEAR READERS: Recently, when I was at a recycling center, a man who'd ridden in to the center for the same purpose eased his bicycle toward me and asked if I was Carol Bradley. I said I was. I scanned the face under a bicycle helmet ...
DEAR READERS:DEAR READERS: Recently, when I was at a recycling center, a man who'd ridden in to the center for the same purpose eased his bicycle toward me and asked if I was Carol Bradley. I said I was. I scanned the face under a bicycle helmet and recognized Ray about the same time he prompted me with his name.
I'd only seen him once, briefly, since my dad died, but we'd known each other since I was a child. He reminded me of the fact that Dad had hired him at a time when a young Ray didn't have a lot in the way of credentials. Ray must have projected something more valuable than formal credentials - something Dad picked up on. That was typical of Dad. He believed in people. Ray went back to school, learned what he needed to know, and became Dad's valued friend and colleague. Seeing Ray, now in his late 80s and fit and healthy, was inspiring.
I believe that Dad would have been vital mentally, if not physically, well into his 80s had he not suffered a severe closed head injury during World War II. After coming out of the long coma that followed his injury, Dad once again learned to walk and talk. He recovered and went on to help many people through his work in public health. However, the long shadow of his old injury always hovered over his health.
In his 70s Dad underwent brain surgery to drain fluid that was building up behind scar tissue left from the old injury. The operation was done to prevent dementia. However, something went dreadfully wrong and Dad came out of surgery with his brain irreversibly damaged. Dad lived his last decade struggling with the dementia that the surgery was meant to prevent. Underneath that dementia, though, he was still the amazing man who intuitively knew good people when he met them. The man I honor today and every day.
My accidental meeting with Ray was a gift. He brought the past momentarily into sharp focus for me. There is healing in remembering our loved ones as they were before dementia. Startling moments of clarity through the years of Dad's dementia assured me that my "real dad" was still a part of the man we cared for. However, without periodic reminders, it's easy to remember the decade of his need for caregiving more clearly than the intelligent, loving, vital man he was during the vast majority of his life.
I feel Dad close to me daily as I work to help caregivers find solutions to problems and cope with difficult emotions. But seeing his friend Ray, chatting with him and then parting with a hug made me feel extra close to Dad.
Happy Father's Day to all dads! And Ray, I especially hope that your Father's Day is the extra special day you deserve.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com .