By Kimi Baker
In life, there are certain things you take for granted — at least I always have. Like the sun rising in the morning and setting at night. And Michigan’s weather being unpredictable. Most importantly, I’ve always counted on big smiles and big hugs from my parents when I walk through the door.
But since my dad was diagnosed with Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, the guarantee of big smiles and hugs when I walked in the door didn’t exist anymore. Because one day — and there was no telling when it would be — Dad wouldn’t know me any better than a stranger walking in off the street.
Well, that day finally came not too long ago. While I did get my big hug, smile and “I love you” when I returned home for a visit, the next morning my dad didn’t know who I was.
I was sitting at the table next to my husband, Bobby, eating breakfast when I heard my dad’s whisper — which is more of a stage whisper than an actual whisper. “Who is that?” he asked my mom.
My mom, trying in vain to keep me from hearing the conversation, was whispering back. Dad, of course, couldn’t hear her. And the response “that’s Kimi” rang loud and clear in the silence of a house not yet fully awake. The rest of the conversation? Went a little like this:
Mom: That’s Kimi.
Dad: Oh! She looks like someone else.
Me, trying to bring a little levity to the situation: I hope like someone pretty.
And we all laughed.
You see, I could let my tears flow because my dad didn’t recognize me. And I’d be perfectly within my right to do so. I also could be hurt by him saying I don’t look like someone pretty. Instead, I smiled. And I laughed when he did — along with my mom and my husband. Because it’s uncomfortable. But, let’s be honest, it’s also a little funny. Besides, Dad can’t help it because it’s the nature of this horrible disease.
Don’t think that because we laughed the seriousness of the situation passed us by. Because it didn’t — I definitely had to fight back some tears. And, let me assure you of this: when your dad doesn’t know who you are, a piece of you breaks. And I don’t think it ever fixes itself. Because, even though he might know you the next time he sees you, there always will be that first time he didn’t recognize your face. Plus, you’ll always know it will happen more often as the disease continues to claim more and more of his brain.
But crying in front of him, as it’s happening, does nothing other than make him feel bad — and turn my face all blotchy. Those tears? They’re saved for the shower or the drive home.
So we laughed. Because there aren’t many joyful moments. There is a lot of sadness and worry, anger and fear. So when those silly moments happen with my dad, I embrace them. Even if it means laughing at my own expense.
This is Kimi’s second year as a member of the Fifth Third River Bank Run ALZ Stars team. To learn more about our ALZ Stars program and other runners like Kimi or to donate, visit our team page at act.alz.org/53RBR! Together we can move a little closer to stopping Alzheimer’s in its tracks.