Christmas is a time for making memories. Even though I can't "make" memories with Dad anymore, I'm determined to help him remember everything and everyone he loved in his life.
It seems as though the holiday season escalates feelings of joy, from everything that is good in life, as well as those things that are worrisome and sad. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends to celebrate with, although a part of my heartaches for the days of yesteryear when my parents were making my Christmas memories.
The last couple of visits with Dad I've brought photo albums to his "home" and we go through each page. At times it seems as though something clicks and he'll recognize someone, but just as quickly he forgets. I know I'm being selfish, wanting him to remember, because he's happy just as he is.
My sister and I, along with our kids and her grandkids, took homemade Christmas cookies to share with Dad and his "roommates."
It was a Sunday afternoon and nap time for many of them, although we found Dad sitting at the kitchen table, just like he had done for so many years in his own home. He's always excited to see me, and he greeted me with a hug and a kiss. He no longer remembers my name or that I'm his daughter – just that he loves me. He seemed to recognize my sister but had no idea the kids surrounding him were grandchildren and great-grandchildren, although he had a smile on his face that warmed our hearts.
The cookies were a hit and even those who were snoozing seemed to wake instantly to receive the afternoon treat. I'm sure the staff wasn't excited that we left a good portion of the residents with green, red and purple icing on their lips and hands, but everyone had a good time.
I love the way children can see past the disability or age of a person and treat them just like anyone else. It's a gift that we seem to lose, as children see the world with unblemished eyes and love unconditionally.
When we left, Dad was again sitting at the table but this time his sights were set on the leftover cookies on the counter. If there were to be a prize given to the person with the most icing on their clothes or face, I'm sure by the end of everyone's naptime he'd be the winner.
My biggest fear of letting go of being Dad's caretaker was that he would forget who I am. It doesn't hurt nearly as much as I thought it would, only because he's so happy and content being surrounded by people all day and not having the stress of trying to remember how to survive each day.
Page 2 of 2 - Even though I know he's in good hands, I fight the tears of missing him.
Buying him a gift for Christmas really isn't practical since he can't keep track of what he has now. I'm going to give him the only thing I can offer – my love, my heart and my promise to hold his memories for him.
Sandy Turner lives in the Kansas City area and writes this column for GateHouse Media.