March 2, 2021

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Today is the day to exhale, a day that I have been unknowingly awaiting for almost a year. Both of my parents have received their second vaccination dose, and today they have completed the two-week waiting period after fully vaccinated. Or as I told them, they are released from detention. And just when our world is thawing too, such a beautiful spring.

In the early days of the pandemic, thinking of my father stressed me out. I had heard accounts of people with dementia who were infected with covid, dying alone and confused in hospitals. Dementia patients were more likely to get covid, as anyone living with a demented person can attest. My father doesn't remember there's a pandemic, he doesn't remember to wash his hands, or wear a mask, or stay physically distanced from everyone. Visit our house, and he will likely hug you, even if we tell him not to do that.

But even though he can't remember the guidelines, he doesn't deserve to die confused and alone. No one deserves that kind of death, and I definitely didn't want my father's last days to be like that. The threat of that possibility likely even factored in to my decision to cohabitate with them.

My mother and I agreed early on that if, in fact, my father did get infected, we wouldn't take him to the hospital for medical help. Instead we would do what we could to make him comfortable at home, and we'd try to keep ourselves as healthy as possible too. Of course that's easier said than done, but having agreed on that care plan definitely calmed me down.

With that decided, the bigger challenge for me was keeping my mother from getting sick. Possibly the only thing worse than my dad dying alone and confused would be losing my mother. He wouldn't want to survive that loss, and it would not be easy keeping him calm and safe without her. His happiness is completely dependent on her. She's the one thing that grounds him, that keeps him trying.

Just a few weeks ago, I drove him to my office, where I haven't been working since last year. The organization was moving into a new space, so I needed to pick up some boxes. He helped me carry out my stuff, and then we stopped by the new space and did a little tour, since the new office is in a newly-restored historical building.

Before going home that day, we stopped at the family-run restaurant for lunch which I thought would be fun for him, as his granddaughter is the manager. But he had never remembered ever being there and seemed out of sorts and unhappy the entire time, even after I had ordered him a beer, which usually never fails in cheering him up.

When we finally got home, he hugged my mother and cried. I'm not sure what was going on in his demented brain, but somehow he thought that he had lost her. He said he didn't want to leave her ever again. It's as if his life doesn't make sense unless she's in it.

Keeping my mom safe was a different set of challenges. She remembers there's a pandemic, and she has a mask and carries extras for when my dad loses his. She carries hand sanitizer and washes her hands. But she also believes getting her hair and nails done and lunching with her friends are essential activities. Essential for her sanity, perhaps, because being my dad's person is a brutal job, so tapping into some normalcy can be uplifting for her.

But even with all their combined memory challenges and questionable essentials, they have managed to make it through this pandemic year. When the world has lost millions, this indeed feels like something to celebrate.

We still have challenging times ahead, possibly pandemic-related but definitely dementia-related, as that one can't be avoided with masks, sanitizer, or distance. But regardless of what's ahead, I'm still happy to cross this milestone with them. And from the conversations I've been hearing, the old folks are planning parties like spring breakers. May they enjoy them.

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