When your father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, doctors give you a long and depressing list of things to expect. He’ll forget your name and then, eventually, who you are entirely. There won’t be any more chats or heart-to-hearts or fatherly advice. He won’t tell (and retell) you funny stories of things that you said or did as a kid year after year. He won’t walk you down the aisle or spoil, or even know, his grandchildren – and you have to just accept this… PLUS the upcoming work that it will take to make sure that he’s comfortable and safe and well taken care of as his condition worsens… PLUS all of the medical knowledge that you have to absorb to better understand the disease. Yet even with all of that said – they still don’t prepare you for one more thing: Gifts.
There wont be any more birthday gifts or ‘recycled’ holiday cards with the words crossed out and changed to “Happy Birthday.” (Something Glen was known to do.) You’ll never shake a box with your name on it under the tree and wonder what’s inside – it won’t be there. No more spur of the moment trips to the movies or dinner, and you’ll never have to worry if he’ll ask you to go hit golf balls with him at a ridiculously early hour in the morning – he won’t. He’ll never surprise you by showing up at one of your performances or by giving you an old record to listen to, one that meant a lot to him when he was your age.
It’s the thought that counts.
This statement was never more true than when it’s the thought that’s missing.
It’s easy to remember and rationalize that the lack of giving isn’t out of anger or spite, but that he’s just gone. Alzheimer’s has robbed both him and me of these little moments that make life so wonderful. It’s easy to remember this, but very hard to accept.
Finding the gift.
As a musician, one of my main coping mechanisms is through song. I picked up my guitar one afternoon to try and forget some of the pain of having a father with Alzheimer’s – even just for a few minutes – and as I strummed a chord and opened my mouth to sing, the gift appeared before me. The room suddenly filled and echoed with gifts, with memories, with familiar sounds and tones of home. My father’s gift is inside of me and presents itself every time I sing a note with the same inflections as he would have, or in the same range or style. Even the enjoyment of music itself is a gift that was clearly handed down, and one that is more valuable than anything for sale in any store.
These gifts were given to me at birth and are given to me again and again, ANY time I need or want them.
When I look in the mirror and see his eyes or jawline in my reflection, when I sing harmonies with my brother and sister, when I hear his voice on the radio and it sounds more like an old home movie than a hit record – those are the gifts that he will always and forever be giving.
This year’s birthday gift from my father will be the same as it’s been for the last 6 years. Another year of living my life as a musician and producer, of enjoying the privilege of playing and singing and providing enjoyment and entertainment for myself and others as my way of life and career. I get another year to spend with my family, who are all working hard on their own projects while helping other families who are going through the same thing as we are. And for now, as long as he is still here in body and spirit, the gift of another year with my father.
– Cal Campbell