My desire for this blog is to personalize the Alzheimer’s journey and share how it affects families. Today, I have invited blogger and friend Carol Cooney to share her story. It is touching and memorable.
Dentures, Desks, and Dementia
by Carol Cooney
My Dad died three weeks ago. He would have been disappointed that he only made it to ninety-five. His goal had been to live to be one hundred but he had a pretty great life.
Well, if you exclude the vascular dementia. But most of the time, he did not know there was anything wrong. He truly thought it was everyone else. He would talk about the “old people” who lived on the floor with him without once putting himself in that category. He would also talk about how some of the people did nutty things but he, of course, was not one of them.
My Dad lived in a wonderful place. The staff was devoted and really took care of him. They would tell me things that he did that they found endearing while I found them embarrassing. It seems that my Dad would pound on the table and yell “hey” if he thought they were being too slow bringing his food. I don’t see at all how they could find this funny but they seemed to have found it to be an endearing quirk. I wanted to desperately defend him by saying “you should have known him before . . . .”
That is probably the lament of every child of dementia.
My Dad had been a salesman. He traveled the Midwest as a publisher’s representative. He sold advertising space in magazines. He would be in town one week and on the road the next. When he was in town, the routine was that after dinner he would sit at his desk and work. We were not to disturb him. His desk was the most fascinating place on earth. He had so many odd little items. There was the key chain with a hard hat; there was the plastic crystal egg that was a puzzle; the paperweight in the shape of a man’s loafer. The list goes on and on. We were not supposed to play in his desk – the ultimate way to induce us to play in his desk.
His desk was his kingdom. When he moved, first to assisted living and then to the memory care unit, the desk went with him. It was in the memory care unit where we discovered that the desk was quite the hiding place. He was not supposed to have knives or sharp implements. I was a bit softhearted. I could not see taking everything out but after a couple times of the staff finding knives, I would do a sweep to remove everything I could find.
I had to do this four times.
But knives and scissors were not the only thing he seemed to have squirreled away. He was also not supposed to have money as it could be easily stolen or professed to have been stolen. I could not leave him without any cash. It would drive him crazy. So I left seventeen dollars in his wallet. He would complain from time to time but I would remind him that he didn’t use money so it was okay.
Then we had the day that he slumped over and became unresponsive. I was called to his bedside. The doctor and I talked and the doctor did not have great hopes for Dad’s recovery. I noticed that his ring was not on his finger. The staff went in search of it. They had taken his clothes directly to the laundry. They got there just as a staff member was emptying the pockets of his pants. There was the wallet and the ring. They checked the wallet to make sure it was his. In the wallet they found one hundred and seventeen dollars. (Where did the hundred dollars come from?) Later that evening when a nurse came in to check on unresponsive Dad, he turned over and told her he was hungry. I have always felt sorry for that nurse. He must have given her a fright. We have since referred to that event as Dad’s Lazarus moment.
Of all the things that he would remember, he knew that the hundred dollars was missing from his wallet. Dad was the master of the bad boy blank stare. You know that look that professes innocence but does not have a verbal profession of innocence to accompany it. So, while he would not tell me where the money came from, he was not happy that I had taken his hundred dollars.
Several weeks later, I received a call that they had checked his wallet and found eighty-seven dollars in it. They put the seventy dollars in the safe for me to pick up. Once again, we had no idea where the seventy came from.
At this point, we began to wonder if he was running a poker game. After much frivolity, we had to discount that solution. The only reasonable conclusion was that he had money hidden somewhere in his desk. We knew that when he died, we would have to go through the desk slowly to see what was actually in it.
After his death, we found many odd things in the desk but we did not find any money. We did find dentures. Yes, you read that right. We found dentures. This was a bit confusing. My father had only had dentures for a few years. There was really no reason for him to have two and half sets of dentures in his desk. We were kind of laughing about it when the head of the memory care unit came into the room with a blue cup. She thought that we might want my Dad’s dentures. She was a bit taken back when we all started laughing. We suggested that she better check around and see who was missing their teeth because we had plenty to go around. It appears that no one was missing their teeth. This, of course, resurrected the concept of the poker game and my Dad collecting his winnings in teeth.
Dad left us with the mystery of the dentures. I like to think that he just wanted to give us one final laugh.
Thanks for sharing your story, Carol.
If you have a personal story about Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia that you’d like to share, leave a comment, I’ll get back to you.