Over the past 15 years I spent a lot of time with my Dad, caring for him in a variety of ways through his illness. And while Alzheimer's is a relentless journey, I am ultimately grateful. No, I'm definitely not grateful that my father suffered through physical and mental trials that accompany the disease. But ultimately grateful, because without it, we most certainly would not have spent that much time together. My father was a solitary man and for the most part didn't ask for much in the way of social attention. In his way of thinking, we (his children) should know that he loved us, and he knew that we loved him, so there's no need to "fuss" with a visit. Prior to the disease, we simply didn't see much of each other.
But as his needs increased, and the need for "supervision' grew, I began to spend larger blocks of time with him. Sometimes we would go to lunch. Sometimes we would just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. He would accompany me on errands or to pick up my kids, even to shop for a new car one time. (He was astounded at "how much things cost these days") In those every day moments, we had more conversations than we had ever had before.
We talked about current events. We talked about my growing children, the trials they were experiencing in high school and college, and we would often talk about my job because I worked for the same company that he had retired from. I remember telling him one time about how worried I was regarding several of my kids. It seemed they were all in the teen years simultaneously and I worried about decisions they were making and their safety, and how I could protect them when they were growing up. Try as I might I can't specifically remember the situations they were in. But I DO remember his advice to me after he sat silently listening. He said simply, "Well Betsy, all I can tell you is you just have to love them through it." I sat dumbfounded, realizing how simple yet profound and correct he was. I didn't have to control or try to change things. I just had to love them.
As I have contemplated this numerous times since, I've realized that he while he never got into the gritty details of our problems as we were growing up, he did love us through all of them. No matter what.
You might think that the Alzheimer's would prevent him from being engaged but if I could express the emotion I was feeling adequately to him, he would respond in kind. For a long time through the disease progression this is how we connected. I could read in his reactions what he was trying to say even when the words failed or he couldn't quite string together the sentence he wanted to say. And after he lost his words completely, he could "sing" some sounds and use his eyes or facial expressions. And believe me. You could tell when he was happy AND when he was NOT.
I mentioned before that I was grateful. I'm eternally grateful for the time we spent together and the connections we made that most certainly would not have happened otherwise. Additionally though, because of my Dad, I transitioned my career from science to art and was able to engage him in the process. I worked for an intergenerational art program for people with dementia and my father was able to participate. He was socially engaged (with my siblings as partners) and artistically challenged through out the process. And I benefitted personally from the immersion of art work. It made me realize that I had the confidence and skills to ultimately transition to working as a professional artist, a life long dream of mine.
As a result, I've since created several online courses, and am building an online art business. As an artist, the best way I know how to work through this season is to paint. It has been a personally vulnerable process and having the persistence to pursue this isn't always easy to find. But I find myself often thinking of my Dad when I question my resolve. He was the most "block-headed" person I know and I inherited a great deal of that.
I receive the payment for the students enrolled on my online courses on the 16th of every month which coincides with the date of my father's passing. I take that as a wink from my Dad. It is a consistent dose of encouragement seemingly when I need it most. He will be gone 6 months on the 16th of this month.
And this month I'm releasing my first collection of paintings, I've acquired more commissions than ever before, and will receive the highest payment yet from my online classes. Coincidence? Maybe. But I can't help feel that he is watching over all of this for me, and loving me through it no matter what.
The Windswept Collection is a series of oil paintings and watercolors that I created as a tribute to my father. The paintings have great personal meaning to me, and I am hopeful others will appreciate them as well. Either way, I'm counting this collection of work as another wink from my Dad.