What an amazing thing it is to hold a cute wrinkly little chap in your arms and have him stare back at you through unknowing eyes. This little chap is currently unaffected by the toils of experience, the torment of loss or the strain of being. His mind is empty and he has no comprehension of the need to pay bills, the need to feed a family or the complexities of life. He's happy to nap throughout the day and he's happy to use a grimace to convey a need for food or a need to have his nappy changed. At this stage of his life he depends on me to make the right decisions, and so he should.
Why does his look of innocent vulnerability stir in me such powerful and magnetic emotions; surely this is nature's way of nurturing love between humans? Why it is a simple grasp of my finger or causeless smile should elicit such potent feelings of love and protection is beyond me sometimes. Yes, I recognize that this is common in babies, but why does it feel so incredibly exclusive when I am the emotional recipient of such actions? I have no monopoly on these feelings as babies are born everyday, bonds between father and son are forged and hopefully continue throughout their lives, until the end.
Then there are our peculiar attempts at communication; often funny and sometimes frustrating. I actually convince myself that the following dialogue is a two way conversation:
Pointing at a tree, with a look of detachment he babbles, "Ooh-ooh-ca-ca-go-go."
In an exaggerated manner I reply, "Yes, I agree but what about that over there?" pointing to a car.
Head slightly tilted he answers, "Ah-ah-la-la-ta-ta-go-go."
"Nice one," I reply, "although not really my type buddy, I prefer bikes. Lovely weather today, don't you think?"
Now I know this is not exactly the most articulate of exchanges but it does give rise to a sense of communication, and occasional humour; more than once he has beamed at me, chuckled, and called me a "p-p-p-prat!" Well, that's what I think he's saying.
For a father to experience such a deep and caring relationship with a son is truly a beautiful and instinctive thing, especially as a baby, problem is... I don't have a son and now I don't have a father. Dementia is an incredibly cruel condition for the affected and a life altering event for those around them. It robs people of their identity, not in a tolerable instance but in a long and painfully drawn out process.
How ironic it was then that during those protracted times of hardship memory became so vitally important. I'm not referring to the degenerative recall of my father but to the memories of my sister and me. Memories, so long taken for granted, that reminded us of the duty of care we owed our father. Fun days out, birthdays past and my father's unconditional support at all times, those were the memories we tapped into when we had to fight battles on his behalf. Many of the battles we fought were unnecessary and the result of arrogant officialdom. On three separate occasions my sister and I had to move my father to a place better equipped for his then needs, and three times we had to fight and scheme to get what we wanted, as opposed to what the authorities wanted. Luckily for my father he had both of us to fight his battles, visit with him daily and proactively oversee his care, unlike most dementia sufferers, sadly.
The vacuum of mind and companionship associated with severe dementia convinces me of the validity of euthanasia. In my father's case, four times during the last year of his life we were told he had only hours to live, and three times he bounced back. On the last two occasions I feel it would have been more humane had we been permitted to end his life. Had my father - a naturally charming and talkative man - known of his final condition he would have wanted me to end his life several years earlier, a thought he expressed to me often. Had I not experienced the ravages of dementia for nine years then my own thoughts on the subject may well be less certain.
In my mind, the need for life when all faculties are lost is a desire expressed by those left behind and not the affected. It is a desire borne out of a persons own fears of mortality, abandonment and loss.
One saying keeps regurgitating in my mind that I think perfectly sums up the effects of dementia on my father, and sufferers in general, "Once a man, twice a baby."