The other day, Kaleb tapped me on the shoulder. "Mom," he said. "I have been wondering. When Haley was little like me, did Grandpa talk?"
I hugged him when I answered so he wouldn't see the tears in my eyes. "Oh, yes, Grandpa talked. He used to talk so much you couldn't believe it."
He hugged me back and then pushed me away. "Haley is so lucky. All that talking with Grandpa. I wish he could talk to me!" And then he went on his happy little way, leaving me more than a little bit sad.
Because here's the thing: Kaleb never really did get to know my dad, at least not the pre-Alzheimer's dad. The day after Kaleb was born, Dad drove to the hospital on his own, and he got lost. My mom sat with me, waiting, for as long as she could, but she had to go to work. "He probably stopped to read the paper somewhere," she said, and I agreed, neither one of us acknowledging what had really happened. When he finally came into my room, he was matter-of-fact about it. "I couldn't find the damned place," he said. Then he held Kaleb, who didn't have a first name yet but whose middle name was already decided: Don, after my dad.
But here's the other thing that makes me equally as sad: Even if Dad didn't have Alzheimer's, Kaleb might still not have gotten "all that talking with Grandpa." Because, while Dad came to birthday dinners and holiday meals, he wasn't very involved in my kids' lives. He wasn't the sort of Grandpa who'd show up and take a grandkid or two out for a Happy Meal or a trip to the park. He didn't really talk to them on the phone much, or try to get to know them. He was passive in the relationship.
Really, "sad" isn't even the right word: "pissed off" about sums it up. How could he not make an effort? How could he not cherish and develop a relationship with his grandchildren? If you asked Haley, Jacob, or Nathan, I don't think any one of them could tell you something specific they loved or admired about my dad, because they don't have any specific memories with him. They hardly remember what he was like, pre-disease.
Maybe it is wrong to say that I feel anger towards my father. After all, he is ill, and disease should dissolve the past hurt feelings. It should offer at least that much: in the place of memory, absolution. I fragment of poem keeps repeating in my head: "What is elegy but the attempt/To rebreathe life/Into what the gone one once was/Before he grew to enormity." (Mary Jo Bang.) Alzheimer's tries to make him bulge into enormity: larger than life, impervious to anger. Immune to it. Blessed only for the good parts.
How odd that this is a damage the disease inflicts: it not only takes away the ability to tell the person you love you love him (and everything else good you should have said more often), it strips away the chance you had to say how could you? Your anger or disappointment cannot be expressed and so it hangs in your heart, a bitterness, a hook, a biting dark thing you are ashamed of.