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My Three Dads

January 17, 2011 - Jennifer Brookens
It's hard to believe that it's been almost four years since my father passed away after suffering from Alzheimers and leukemia. A few months ago, my mother announced she was asked by a friend who has publisher connections to write about her experiences taking care of my father during his last years, and honoring, "'Til Death Do Us Part." She also asked me to help her with this and to contribute my own side of things. I was flattered — after all, I AM a writer for a living and let's face it, it would've been awkward if she hadn't acknowledged me as she takes on this endeavor. But this also means more trips back into the hurt locker. Barely opening the door to it makes me glad I didn't put on any eye make-up today.

As I've thought about it from about 10 years ago when we started seeing these changes in my father to when he died, he had three different personalities, or what I started thinking of as "My Three Dads." The first is "Dad." He's the one I grew up with, the one that would try to teach me how to throw a ball (even though I threw like a girl). The one who taught me how to paddle a canoe, and always managed to get me an adorable stuffed animal for Christmas, even after I was all grown up. He's the one I miss the most.

Then sometime around college, he started seeming more surly. This was "Marv." It was difficult to like Marv, since the slightest thing could set him off. At the beginning, he hid what was happening from us. When he got angry with me for wrecking the car and had it towed to the junkyard, I believed it was because he thought I was an ungrateful brat. But now we know it was because he couldn't repair it like he could have easily done in the past. "Marv" also didn't like my husband very much. By this time, he could no longer hide what was happening and his communication skills had deteriorated. Marv was angry when it was evident I was pregnant with my first child. He said he and my Mom would help out, and that "the guy is just a kid!" (Even though "that kid" was 30 and we'd already been married six years at that point). Despite all this, I found ways to love Marv. When they'd visit us, I was responsible for "walking Marv," after he had gotten lost and we had to call the police to find him. I remember one time, we walked by a playground and he wandered over by the swings, and held one out. I wasn't sure what he meant, but he gave it to me and I sat down. Then he gave me a push, and we were back to father and child, his pushing me on the swingset. It was good to know my Dad was still somewhere in there.

"Papa" came out on the evening of Nov. 17, 2003, the day my daughter was born. All the experts say that most Alzheimer's patients have a tough time bonding with new people, but bond is an understatement of how my dad responded to his baby granddaughter. When they had to leave to go back to Wyoming, my mom asked about what houses in the area sell for. I thought she was saying it to make me feel better. Less than a month later, they were back and in touch with a realtor. By June, my mom had also retired, sold her house in Wyoming and moved to Truman. We still saw shades of the angry Marv, but when "the little girl" was there, all was usually well. They were playmates. As she learned to walk, he'd walk behind her, and make sure she wasn't going to bump her head on the table. Then, as his disease progressed, she was the one helping him. She learned to holler if Papa was walking away, and she would help him with the ABC and 123 puzzles they did together.

My daughter was only 3 when we lost Papa, but she still remembers him. I forget sometimes how hard it must be on her because she lost a playmate and a friend when she lost her Grampa. But I think her time with him made her the kind and compassionate girl she is today. It is seen most when she is dealing with her little brother - a boy whom I see shades of Dad, Marv and Papa in everyday.


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