I like to think about my childhood and living on a small dairy farm in Maine, USA. I grew up poor and didn’t know it. I always seemed to have what I needed and never complained about the clothes that were handed down from my brother Joe, to my brother Tim, and then to me. Yes, they were pretty well worn out by the time I got them but didn’t care. This is the life I knew. Toys were not common, but the ones that we did have, were important and had great meaning. I remember one Christmas morning where us kids all played in boxes instead of the toys that Santa had brought. My parents talked about it every single year, about how much fun we had with empty boxes and that they could have saved money had they only known we would have been happy with just the box things came in. That was more than 40 years ago, and I would give anything to experience those kind of feelings again, or feel the love that was generated around our Christmas tree by my family.
I am the third child out of six, all boys except one sister who came directly after me. I truly believe that being one of six kids may be the reason I am who I am today, or at least to some degree. I know that we brought many years of love and laughter to our home. When things were bleak and my parents were secretly worried about how they were going to pay the bills, they never showed that stress to us kids, but I always knew. When my mother was in High School she was voted the “most beautiful eyes and smile”, and it was these same eyes that showed the concern she had for keeping the finances. My parents always held a strong sense of ownership and pride in a job well done. One of the biggest life lessons, learned from my parents, was to set high standards and finish each job to the very best of my abilities. We were taught to not cut corners and always strive to try and finish each task on our own first, and if we could not figure out a solution, then it was okay to ask for help.
It wasn’t until my mother died in 2002 (she was 59 years old) that I realized how very much she did for my father. Up to this point I had always seen my Dad as a securely motivated man, with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a man that could figure out anything that was thrown at him. Growing up, he was a farmer, a carpenter, an electrician, a woodsman, a mechanic, and just about everything else under the sun. I always knew that my father only had an eighth grade education, but it never mattered. He was the smartest man I knew, and I loved him. After Mom died I started to see that my father lacked confidence. He was socially awkward, scared to go through the checkout line by himself, and was absolutely lost when it came to keeping track of his paperwork and mail. My mother always had been the one to do all of this and he never ever had to worry about it. Perhaps this may have been a disservice, but it worked for them for forty one years, so who’s to say what is right and what is wrong? Certainly not me.
Jumping ahead eight years to 2010, I lost my father to cancer. He was 69 years old. His illness started in May when he had a seizure and the doctor’s said they couldn’t get it to stop. He was sent to the biggest hospital in the state, (2 hours drive from my home) and stayed there for two months. He continued to have seizures which was damaging his brain, and was often unaware of who I was. He was sent to a rehab facility at one point but was put back in the hospital a short time later. Long story short, he was admitted to the hospital on May 9th, 2010 and died October 9th, 2010. There are times still when I get sad because he never made it back home for five months. But, my father who had always been a workaholic and loved being outdoors, did not want to sit in a hospital bed everyday. Though he was unaware of his surroundings for the most part, he wasn’t in any pain.
As I am writing this it just occurred to me that this could be anyone’s story. As a matter of fact this probably hits home to many readers, as they can relate to parts of it. We always hear that we “don’t know what tomorrow holds”, and nothing could be truer. I am already starting to see subtle changes in myself since my Dementia diagnosis last year, and it makes me much more aware of what it is that I really have around me. The doctors best educated estimate is that I have between two and five years, though it is just that, an educated guess that is most likely spurred on by Traumatic Brain Injury. I truly am aware of the significance of each morning when I wake up and hear the birds singing. I am aware as to how very fortunate I am to have a wife that loves me unconditionally, and is willing to walk this journey with me despite what we know it will lead to. I am also aware of how very blessed I am to have three children (young adults now) who all know the importance of family and what is associated with that, and that they all love me the very same way that my parents loved each other, and each of us kids growing up. Family is everything, and I will never take that for granted. I worry about what this disease is going to do to my mind, but I have to concentrate on the now and not worry about the “what ifs”.