by Margaret Anderson
“I am so blessed to have known your dad…. I watched his joy and gratitude for each day and everything it offered… He taught me how to live, and I shall miss him terribly but I will remember.”
A friend wrote this to me when my Dad, Earl, died. Dad, who had dementia, lived with me for his last nine years – from age 91 to 100. Her words reflect so much of those years – years that were often full of humor, family and love. And it was a good life with dementia, not in spite of having dementia.
Dad died in 2011. I decided in 2018 to tell our story because I have more and more friends who are so afraid – that they will have to care for someone with dementia, or get dementia themselves. It was time to offer a true story of another possibility – so I put together this video His Smile is Like the Sunshine. I hope you find it inspiring and hopeful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9oAXRdtX0s
The story is from two perspectives. One is about Dad’s life and the other about his impact on others.
As you’ll see, in many ways dementia didn’t change the routine of Dad’s daily life – or his sense of humor! Even though he often didn’t remember my name, what state he lived in, or what he had just read, he continued taking walks, puttering, reading, doing crossword puzzles (which got simpler and simpler), enjoying company and watching the squirrels and birds. With or without dementia, he was always Earl.
The beginning quote reflects the impact he had on others and on me, his daughter and primary caregiver. Yes, there was the work of care-giving for an elder with limited memory, and I know I was lucky he did not wander, get paranoid, or delusional. AND, as I reflected in public in 2011, I experienced Dad on so many days as my own in-house Guru. He always lived in the present, he never worried, and he found such joy and gratitude in the day-to-day and in loving others.
This is just one story, one experience of living with dementia. I don’t know how common this presentation of dementia is. But it was our experience.
People who have watched the video have said:
“I loved how it showed that a person living with dementia can experience great joy in day-to-day life and is quite capable of doing many things.”
” I found it all very interesting and full of examples of ways to help a person with dementia live a good life. And, how that person can make such a positive impact on the lives of others.”