It has now been a little over a year since my father was admitted to Britthaven for long-term Alzheimer's care. There have been big changes in him since then. He has aged. His ability to communicate in language has declined. He cannot position his hands or his body on request. In order to be seated he needs to be positioned in front of a chair and helped down to insure that he does not fall. Walking is also slow and difficult. Feeding himself is messy. He resists help with that, suggesting that he is determined to hold onto this bit of independence. Time has changed for him now. Although he has been unable to drive for at least four years, just recently he told me that he needed glasses so that he could drive. Dad recently told a friend that David and I were buying a cabin in the woods even though David and I are just approaching the first anniversary in our one and only house and still have twenty-nine years to go on our mortgage. There is one hidden blessing here. Like Kilgore Trout, I think dad has become unstuck in time (and space).
Many other caregivers understand my sense of relief to know this is starting to happen. One of the most difficult stages of dementia for the victim appears to be the middle stage when the ill person still understands that there is something wrong with her/him and is constantly grieving for the losses s/he has sustained.
On April 19th, 1999, several of dad's friends from Charles House came together with dad to put on a little a-cappella concert at Britthaven. This was the first music event at Britthaven with which my father was involved. A photo was taken at that event. Viewing that photo, like viewing any photos that have been taken since his illness was diagnosed, brings bittersweet feelings. The man in the picture is both my father, and not my father. Like a battle-torn flag, one can still project the familiar pattern, but enough is missing that it takes a conscious effort. It is sometimes better for dad to have new friends, friends who met him recently. These new friends know and love the person he is now and are not torn to pieces seeing him, remembering a person they once knew.
That a-cappella concert was given on my 38th birthday. Those wonderful people from Charles House and the Britthaven Activities Department not only made it possible for dad to perform that day, but they also made it seem to dad as though he were giving me a birthday party. From left to right, standing in the photo behind my father and I: Jenny, the then office manager at Charles House, who showed me where I could buy Papain locally (a digestive supplement dad used to take); Trisha, who volunteered to transport dad to Sunday services at Charles House several times; Shannon, my father's favorite Charles House barber, cook and jokester; Elizabeth, then the Charles House resident artist, who brought the birthday cake and has been like a sister to me since; Frank, dad's friend at Britthaven who arrived just shortly before my father did; and Maureen, who helped dad be useful in the Charles House garden when she was a volunteer over a year ago. I want to acknowledge them and thank them, and also countless others, OT's with Lincoln Logs, social workers, Britthaven employees, and again dad's friends, old and new, who through their efforts have helped dad to build a life at Britthaven.
I grieve because I remember the old Tommy Thompson and the new developments feel like more unraveling fabric to me. Did I hold dad back from getting "unstuck-in-time" longer by hanging on to who he WAS? There will never be an answer to that. Even if I did, maybe there was something good in holding onto parts of him that he could no longer hold onto himself.
One thing I do know though. Last week, an eight-week-old mixed-breed puppy named Victoria sat in dad's lap licking his face and inside his ears. She expressed nothing but enthusiasm for meeting this big man, at least ten times her size, who was totally enchanted with her. She was blowing her smelly puppy-breath right in his nose and getting her dog-smell all over him. Dad closed his eyes and twisted his face this way and that, bursting out in smiles and laughter in response, as he assured me in garbled words that he didn't mind. Victoria is David's and my new puppy, and she loves dad NOW, knowing only who he IS.
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Tommy's section of the site, the following pages
are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community
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February 17, 2000