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Short note about My Dad

March 7, 2012

baptisiaThis morning was the first day this year that I’ve been out in our yard for any length of time. As I was raking up the winter mess, my thoughts immediately turned to my dad and I shed a few tears. I am sure my love and appreciation of all things outside are because of my dad. Although I cannot remember him when I was very young, I know I was born in Pittsburgh and when our family lived on Bayberry St., my dad had an amazing organic garden. Over the years he told me about the ten foot tomato plants and other vegetables he grew while in Pittsburgh. My childhood was spent in Akron, Ohio and while we lived there my dad’s gardening obsession gave way to earning a living and other hobbies such as collecting butterflies and making furniture. The only time I remember my dad actually working in the yard was once a year when he recruited me to help him with the huge pile of brush and grass that had collected for our compost pile and was ready to be shredded. Eventually the kids moved out of the house, my parents retired and my dad started gardening again.

 Hello little brother!  me, older sister Anne, Dad, baby Michael
Hello little brother! me, sister Anne, Dad, baby Michael

My dad is a perfectionist to a fault, and he does everything in a grand way. If one is good, three is better; if there is a rare variety, he will have it; and if it can’t be found, he will build it. So you can imagine his shade garden in its heyday. It was fine gardening at its best. My admiration for my father goes above and beyond. My gardening inspiration is all because of him.

In the Spring of 2008 my parents stopped by our house on their way home from Alabama. Something was different about my dad. The normal talkative, opinionated and bright-eyed dad was just not there. After several months of tears and urging, my parents finally went to see the doctor. All I can say is be careful for what you pray for. My only thought was please don’t be Alzheimer’s. Well, my wish was granted. My dad was diagnosed with FTD (frontotemporal degeneration, http://www.theaftd.org/) Yes, it is a type of dementia. And what has happened is that my dad’s left lobe of his brain is “severely” atrophying. Since my dad’s diagnosis there have been boatloads of tears and questions. Now and only after several years am I able to talk about it without breaking down.

It’s a strange and very sad disease. I’ve learned it means different things for different people and of course the medical field is still learning about FTD. What it has meant for my dad is several things. The most obvious is that he can no longer talk. He tries to talk but whatever is in his brain, does not come out his mouth as recognizable. Very sad for a man who lived his life debating ideas, giving speeches and solving design problems. As with most dementias, he has also lost a lot of his memories. Because there is not yet any medication, therapy or cure for FTD, my mom made the decision not to take my dad back to the doctor for any follow-up tests. We know it’s FTD and to put my dad through more tests, really … what’s the point? Lucky for our family and kudos to my mom. She is a stubborn lady. She continues to care for my dad and not let the disease get in the way. They still take trips, swim 1/2 mile 5 times weekly, walk, stretch and do weights everyday. She embraced the alternative healthy foods such as turmeric, coconut oil and other “brain foods.” She insists my dad draws (he was an industrial designer by trade), uses the computer, does word puzzles and play cards. When the Dr. that originally diagnosed him saw my dad two years later, he was amazed that my dad was doing so well. I attribute that to my mom’s stubbornness and my dad’s intelligence.

So life goes on. But when I am out in the garden alone in my thoughts … I see the plants I’ve split and taken from my dad’s garden, I see the Dawn Redwood starts that he gave me and are now 10 feet tall, I see the trees he planted in my yard when I first moved here, I remember all the conversations I’ve had with him that I will never have again … and I can’t help but cry :(

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