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An Unexpected Gift from Alzheimer’s

by Suzanne Woods Fisher

A few years ago, I started writing a weekly column on my blog called “Conversations with Dad.” My father was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease and, because my parents lived across the street, I was spending quite a bit of time with him. Quite a bit.

For those of you who have had an experience with Alzheimer’s (and so many of you have), you know how heartbreaking it is to watch a person you love slip away. And you also know how important it is to keep a sense of humor to balance out that heartbreak. You just can’t live on the precipice of grief all the time. My dad certainly wouldn’t have!

Writing, for me, helps me to cope. I wrote up stories of the time I spent with my dad. That column became a way of capturing the essence of Dad while it was still there. Some of the stories were funny, some sad, all poignant. Here’s one of my favorites:

On Tuesday morning, after picking Dad up, we were stuck in terrible traffic in a busy freeway interchange. I had my puppy in the car because I wasn’t sure how long I would be gone.

The puppy, even though she was on tie-down, was excited to have Dad in the car and kept trying to jump toward him. Dad was in an agitated mood and was upset with her.

There wasn’t much I could do at that moment other than get through the traffic. And grit my teeth. Finally, the puppy settled down and went to sleep. Dad looked down at her and said, “Good kitty.”

Later, I told my sister about the story. “Oh!” she said. “No wonder Dad got upset! He hates cats.”

One day, a reader left a comment on my blog after reading the “Conversations with Dad” posts. This woman, (I’ll call her Ella) had recently learned that her fifty-three year-old daughter had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We e-mailed back and forth, back and forth, and discovered that we lived only an hour away. Soon, we met for a long lunch.

Bright and capable, Ella’s worries about her daughter’s AD were very different than my worries about Dad. Ella, over eighty, feared she wouldn’t be here to care for her daughter when she needed her most. I worried about how to cope with my dad’s constantly changing needs. She worried about how to help her daughter retain independence for as long as possible. I worried about how to manage my dad’s high energy and lack of common sense. Dwelling on what lay ahead for my dad in Heaven gave me peace. Learning to treasure each day brought Ella peace about her daughter.

Over thirty years of life experience separate Ella and I-she is close to my dad’s age, I am close to her daughter’s age-yet we have much in common. I share all of my new books with her; she sends me gifts for my garden. She and her husband are basketball fans and keep on top of my college son’s games. I keep a little angel on my windowsill as a reminder of Ella’s daughter and pray for her daily. She has a knack for writing and I’m bent on encouraging her to publish a children’s book one day.

My dad passed away two years ago. Ella’s daughter has continued to decline. The friendship between Ella and I began with our journey alongside Alzheimer’s, and it has spread into many other areas of our lives. Alzheimer’s disease is a heartbreak, yet even AD brings lessons: Learning to accept what we can’t control, treasuring each day for the gift it is, trusting God with our future-on earth and in Heaven. And I’m particularly grateful for God’s encouragements along the way to “hangeth thou in there”-like meeting Ella through a blog.

suzanne fisherSuzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling, award-winning author of ‘The Stoney Ridge Seasons’ series and ‘The Lancaster County Secrets’ series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone. Suzanne lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area but can be found on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. She loves to connect with readers!

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6 Responses to An Unexpected Gift from Alzheimer’s

  1. Dana McNeely says:

    Suzanne, this post touched me in an uplifting way. My dad is suffering from symptoms of aging, although there’s been no formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Visits with him are, as you said, sad, funny, poignant. Sometimes I feel like the first-time mother of a newborn – unable to cope with all the challenges coming at me for the first time – and where’s the user’s manual? I’ve written very little about it, it seems too hard to relive again. But I think I’ll start.

  2. Suzanne, what a beautiful story that reveals how God works in our lives, even through sad, difficult times.

    My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2005, one year after being diagnosed. During that year she couldn’t recognize my father and that tore him apart. But a month before she died, she was hospitalized with pneumonia and unresponsive. One night as I sat with her, she sat straight up, and recited her full name and address. The next day she got to come home. Though she spent her last three weeks in bed, she was home and she knew my dad. It was such a blessing to him – a gift from God I believe, before He called her to her eternal home.

  3. Oh Suzanne, you know how very much this speaks to me. How well I remember your Conversations with Dad. Still on my own journey with my sister and holding on to the promise of heaven!

    Much love!

  4. Liz Vander Lee says:

    Suzanne, I now realize why your books speak so strongly to me – you have embraced the many challenges sent to you by the Lord, and you dare to be open and to LOVE when it costs so much. Your dad, your raising puppies for others, even “just” motherhood itself – you are such an encouragement to me. Thanks for this post.

  5. I wish I had known about your blog then. I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s a year and a half ago. He was a brilliant man, a veterinarian. He did all the surgery for his clinic, did research for Hershey Med. Center and University of Penn in Philly, worked on the Barnum and Bailey Circus animals, etc. Sad thing — he realized what was happening to him before he couldn’t realize any more. It was heartbreaking for me because I was always a daddy’s girl, but I lived 250 miles away so when I saw him, the changes were really noticeable. To this day, my heart aches when I think of him — I still miss him so. I didn’t know anyone else at the time who had experienced it. I felt so alone, and even though it’s been a long time — I still feel very alone when I think of his decline and death!

  6. Chris Meyer says:

    Such a sad disease but I also try to find humor in my day with Granny.
    I’m sorry for your friend’s daughter. It is so hard to see folks get the young onset AD. And if they have children there is a 50/50 chance they will pass it on to their child. I’ll keep her in my prayers also.