This article was originally published in the April 2012 edition of care ADvantage, for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's Disease and related illnesses, published by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
My father’s death on December 22, 2011 did not come as a surprise. He had been living with Alzheimer’s Disease for the last 7 or 8 years and had not even known me for the last two, so I was saddened but relieved when my sister called to let me know he had passed peacefully.
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In the weeks after his death, I was stunned by the force of grief which overtook me. I had thought his death would offer me gentle relief mixed, perhaps, with moderate sadness since I’d been grieving for years already each time his illness progressed.
But instead, after his death, the man I knew in my childhood re-asserted himself in my memory - the man who played endlessly with me and my siblings, who sang and danced in plays, who told stories, who made me feel as adorable and loved as a person can feel. I can’t forget the hell of his disease, but now that horror mixes seamlessly, relentlessly with the pure, the beautiful. The juxtaposition of love and resentment and anger and horror and pain and pleasure and compassion is cruel and harsh. The tears fall unabated. How can one person hold so many conflicting emotions at once? How to come to terms with it all?
I am thankful for painting which allows me to express my emotions wordlessly. It allows me to be with my feelings, to weep as I paint when I need to, to hover in and out of the grief then sway into hue and form and line then back into tears and sadness. Compassion arises, that gentlest of emotions, as I paint my hand stroking my face and offer myself comfort. I notice my wrinkles and my graying hair and feel love for the years I’ve lived and the wisdom I’ve accumulated. I remember times with Dad, listening to him sing, and feel Pleasure at the thought of his young vibrant articulate self and me, a young child, adoring him. Finally, flush with Grief, Compassion, and Pleasure, I feel utterly drained, empty, and simply Present. Death does not leave only gentle reminders behind. Painting is my solace for its residue.