June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and No Bags To Check is going purple with an Alzheimer’s Awareness series dedicated to this important cause and the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day event on June 21st. This post is by Angela Bahng.
My father is 64 years old and has Alzheimer’s. Because he’s still so young, I have to admit it was hard for everyone in our family, including him, to accept.
At first, it started with him having difficulty remembering certain words. He knew what he wanted to say, but he just found himself unable to find the right word to express himself verbally.
It was frustrating, but we never thought it meant that he might have early Alzheimer’s.
Then when he was officially diagnosed with it, we started looking for programs and therapies to help him with speech and his everyday routines. That’s when we realized how much he was struggling with things that had been so simple for him before. I could tell how much it bothered him that he couldn’t sign his own name anymore, or remember what day it was, or do a basic puzzle with his grandkids.
These days it’s easier for him to speak in Korean, his native language, rather than the English he had worked so hard to learn since he immigrated to Chicago in 1976. He had been a computer programmer for over 20 years, and that’s the way his mind had always worked. He was precise and accurate in everything he did, organized, scheduled, and reliable. I remember him listening to tapes to perfect an “American accent” and he always spoke to my sister and me in perfect, unbroken English. Now it’s as if he’s going back in time, to the language of his youth.
Now that he and my mother are both retired, both of them earlier than they expected to because of the Alzheimer’s, I know they both wish they could travel as much as they had once planned. One of my father’s favorite hobbies had always been planning and taking elaborate vacations all over the United States and Canada. Throughout my childhood, we visited nearly every national park, in addition to the usual Disneyland and Disney World trips, as well as far-flung places like Nova Scotia and Prince Edward’s Island.
These are still some of my favorite memories of my father from when I was growing up. Even though we weren’t wealthy by any means, he made sure to save up enough so that we could take at least one big family vacation a year. He would get out a giant whiteboard and map, and show us the potential itineraries he had planned. He would explain the important sights to see in each location, and the routes we would take. This was in the days before everyone was using the Internet, so he would go to the library and check out Mobil travel guides and research every trip in minute detail. He would even make color copies and cut out pictures of the places, and tape them to the whiteboard so we could have a sense of where we might be going. Then he would let us all have a vote, and we would spend at least one to two weeks a year on our vacations, having the time of our lives, wherever we ended up.
My parents recently returned from a trip back to South Korea. My mom said it was like he was a different person when he was there, much more relaxed, less anxious, laughing more and conversing with old friends and family. Though it’s usually difficult for him to break out of the comfort and security of being at home, I’m grateful he still has those moments of being his old self. Those glimpses of him are still there, whether it’s when he’s traveling, or teasing and being goofy with my kids. I treasure those moments, because they remind me of who he was, and still is, no matter what changes happen from this point forward. He’s still the dad I love and respect and am thankful for every day of my life. And these are all the things that I never want to forget about him.
Angela Bahng is a freelance editor and writer, born and raised in Chicago, and a mom to two girls. She started blogging in 2012 to connect with other moms and adoptive parents of special needs kids. Her older daughter is adopted from South Korea, and shares an affectionate nickname with Angela's blog, My Spirited Girl. Her younger one is her surprise baby, who currently is giving her older sister a run for her money and turning out to be spirited in her own way as well.
To support the Alzheimer's Association, the world's leading organization in Alzheimer's care, support, and research, and The Longest Day event, click here.
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Filed under: Alzheimer's