The Wedding Day that Almost Wasn’t
I got a call from my mom one month before my wedding, “Your dad fell and he can’t walk.” She reluctantly had to put him in a nursing home for two weeks to recover. Selfishly, I panicked, thinking my dad, and maybe my mom, too, wouldn’t be able to attend my wedding, a four-hour flight away from their home, let alone walk me down the aisle. My panic turned to concern for my mother’s well-being, who was dealing with yet another dramatic turn in his health.
I had gotten used to my dad’s health getting in the way of our family plans over the last five or so years. Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him, because his long term memory was still so good, so it couldn’t have been Alzheimer’s disease. But we just knew something wasn’t right. My poor mom brought him to doctor after doctor, gave him prescription drug after drug, his condition worsened and became unbearable for my mom to manage (He didn’t get an LBD diagnosis until about a year before he died).
He couldn’t be left alone, but my mom had a business to run, and we couldn’t afford full-time in-home care. My brother, St. Vincent de Paul volunteers and extended family would help here and there and I would call and chat with him every couple of hours to distract him, even from 7 hours away, just to keep him settled down. He kept trying to leave the house on his own. That’s how he fell.
My dad never wanted to go into a nursing home. He had always said he didn’t trust them, and that family should take care of the elderly when sick. So you can imagine how guilty we all felt with him being ‘locked up’ in a nursing home.
I thought the temporary stay would provide some relief to my mother. I was wrong. His room had a phone next to his bed (why would a nursing home give a dementia patient a phone?), and he called my mother all day long, every day, shouting profanities at her, making her feel awful for putting him in the nursing home. She was more miserable with him gone than at home. Because we didn’t know about his LBD at the time, she took all of his bad treatment of her very personally, and never quite recognized it was the disease speaking – not him.
I flew home to help out. My dad said I had to, “break him out of there,” as if he was in a prison. I do believe he thought he was. Eventually, after about a week, we brought him home. But could he be well enough in a few short weeks to attend my wedding?
My mom wasn’t sure if she would be going to my wedding with or without my dad. We didn’t have anybody to leave him with, unfortunately, and the idea of him being back at home with all of us celebrating was just too much to handle- for me. A few days before my wedding, my mom decided to bite the bullet and take him.
It was a lot of work for my mom and immediate family to bring him to my wedding: airport security was a nightmare; he was confused about where he was going and why; the airplane bathrooms weren’t large enough to accommodate both my dad and mom so she could change his diaper; upon arrival, he had a panic attack while waiting for the rental car (his anti-anxiety medication was off in somebody else’s luggage); and to top it off, he opened the car door while my mother was driving with him alone on the freeway, three hours to our “romantic” vineyard destination wedding. (She grabbed him by his now-uniform elastic waistband sweatpants and pulled him back into the car just in time.)
On my wedding day, I had envisioned a relaxing start with a bubble bath in my hotel room, followed by a fun day of female bonding with my mom, mother-in-law to be and best friends before walking down the aisle. Instead, I played caregiver and counselor to my mother, now so stressed out and exhausted from traveling across the country with a 74 year old demented man.
She couldn’t stop crying and therefore we couldn’t get her hair and makeup done. Turns out my half-brother, in charge of my dad for the day, was failing at getting him dressed for the wedding, he didn’t feel comfortable helping Dad to the bathroom, and didn’t know how to keep Dad from wandering. I think my mom was overwhelmed by the sense that nobody else but her could care for him properly, and she was trapped. She wasn’t necessarily wrong. But dammit, my mom deserved to go to this wedding and she was going whether she liked it or not! I brought in other family to help out and get my dad ready, I helped my mom de-puff from all the crying, and before you knew it, my mom and dad were ready to escort me down the aisle to my fiancee.
Moments before, with my arms linked around both my mom and dad’s arms, my dad looked at the big crowd and had a mini-panic attack and said, “I can’t do this!” My mom had to scold him like a child, “Oh, yes you will!” He looked down sullenly, and we marched on. As soon as all of those friendly faces in the crowd turned to look my way, both with pity for my family having to deal with my dad’s disease, and happiness for me that he made it there to walk me down the aisle, I just burst into tears. I was so relieved we made it to this point, I sobbed like a baby until I reached my fiancee.
The rest of the day was wedded bliss – nothing could bring me down. My dad was in rare form, smiling and laughing; I was even able to dance with him for the father-daughter dance.
I don’t know if my dad understood why we were even all there celebrating, but it was really special for me that he made to my wedding day. I love my mom so much and the seven or so years he was sick were so hard on her, I was afraid for a while that I would lose them both. I look back at that weekend and feel such tremendous guilt about making my mother go through so much for me to simply have my father be there.
My dad has been gone for over four years now, and I miss him terribly. I’m happy to say my mom is doing very well, though, and living life to the fullest. She knows how quickly the tide can turn. Ironically, she travels for a living now, and gives special time and attention to people like my dad who end up on her flights.
Today is my dad’s birthday and it brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye to remember those difficult years. LBD robbed our family of so much. I’m happy my dad is now at peace, but I wish he could be here to meet his grandson, who bears his name.
I love you, daddy! Happy birthday.
Oct 10, 2014