A Father Lost by
(16 Stories)

Prompted By Caregiving

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I kiss my father's smiling face.  Such a brilliant mind trapped by dementia

I’d know the smell anywhere.  Disinfectant laced with urine. The odor of an old age home. The lobby deceives at first.  Light, bright and modern, with a few tasteful antiques.  But up the elevator to the 5th floor and one is hit  with  the smell and aging bodies  muttering or staring vacantly.  One  frail old lady with her worn polyester dress tucked into her wrinkled panty hose, pacing, pacing, pacing and repeating  over and over and over and over, “Edna,” “Edna”, “Edna”……….

I go to find my father.  He’s sitting in the dining room waiting for his lunch.  My frazzled mother, sitting by his side, urges him to eat. “He might get sick if he doesn’t eat, ” she says.  Sick?  What does that mean when he has Alzheimer’s?

I kiss my father’s smiling face.  Such a brilliant mind trapped by dementia. Grandma Rose acted the same way too, in the days when they called it senility. Last time I saw her, at age 95, she was sitting in a high chair in a nursing home, greedily gumming an apple.  Am I next? Am I a time bomb? SometimesI forget what I am looking for and I’m frightened.

Watching the  dementia patients in the  nursing home eat is a horror show.  Fingers grabbing, faces covered with food.  Bedlam.   I’m thinking, “let me out of here!”  My mother sees my panic. “Let’s go”, she says. We walk into the fresh air and  I try to shut off what I’ve just seen.  As we eat in a nearby diner  I think, “How can we eat after the assault on our senses?” But we do.

Thoughts of my father, now deceased, are still with me.  How he would have relished the political drama of an election, how he would have devoured this book, that opera! Futile musings, of course.  His mind was gone years before he died.  It pains me, but in  the long run it was my mother who really suffered. The intrepid  wife  who had been a caretaker ever since my  father was diagnosed,  and the loyal partner who witnessed his deterioration. She braved the pain and frustration of  a husband who was childlike and unable to do simple tasks. My mother  felt somewhat guilty placing Dad in a “home”, but her life certainly became far easier.

Family friends, also with great reluctance,  placed  their mother with Alzheimer’s   in a nursing care center. Her husband had kept her home as long as he could but she had  become extremely difficult.  The family  hired a succession of paid caretakers, but no one lasted more than a few days.  After walking the halls of the facility  for the first time she said to her daughter, “Marilyn, is this the Concord (hotel)?”  “Yes, Ma”

Profile photo of Sara Gootblatt Sara Gootblatt

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Marian says:

    The part about the high chairs really hit me, Sara, having had a similar experience visiting my grandmother. What you describe is distressingly familiar and what we all fear the most. At least your last lines can give a smile to the brave caregivers who deal with this challenging illness.

  2. Suzy says:

    Frightening story about dementia, Sara, which is something I have been lucky enough not to have to deal with so far. It seems like having professional caregivers in a nursing home rather than trying to take care of someone yourself makes a lot of sense for everyone. And your punchline, “Is this the Concord?” is perfect! How great if they think they are at a Catskills resort!

  3. Sara, this is so beautifully written, and you capture so skillfully the sights, sounds and smells but more importantly the human emotions of the situation.

    Brava to a moving story of a loving family.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Sara, your sense memory of the nursing home brings it all right back for all of us. You bring heart, warmth and pathos to your story. Dementia is so cruel and difficult for all involved. Yes, your thoughts wander to all the things your father would have loved.

    As others have mentioned, your last line is both funny and sad, a reminder that Alzheimer’s takes away current memories first, leaving older ones the longest. Your story is full of warmth and compassion.

  5. Oh, Sara, for a moment I wondered if we had been to the same place, the brightly lit modern lobby, then up the elevator and then oh, that smell, those sad souls slumped in hallways. From your first sentence, first paragraph, I was swept into the past, when my late husband Ken was failing and I was looking into skilled nursing facilities nearby. I only looked at two…that was all it took to decide to keep him by my side and do the best I could, despite the fact that we had next to nothing by that point and relied on the grace of family and friends. Thankfully he did not have dementia, so it was only a matter of the emotional and physical toll. I’m glad I did it, but I wasn’t nearly patient enough and regret that to this day over 20 years later.

    Your dear parents . . . I’m so sorry for what you all endured. None of us really knows what lies ahead for us, and I think we’ve all begun to worry about it, even come up with potential exit plans (some legal) in our lowest hours. I know I have. Of course that brings up a host of issues too dark and delicate to deliberate here, so instead I’ll end on a high note: That you’re able to write about your experience with a certain pathos yet end on a humorous note speaks to your spirit, which is what got you through. Yes, brava, Sara.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Sara, this story brought tears to me eyes. You so perfectly capture the indignities of what my mother used to call the “lock up.” My late brother-in-law used to greet all of the people who sat limply in their wheel chairs in the hallways and near the elevator. “Someday, that will be me and I hope someone will see that I am still a person who deserves a greeting.” Sadly, he died far too young, but I have never forgotten those words.

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