By: Patrick Eagan
Sunday, June 21st is Father’s Day, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. The Alzheimer’s Association is hosting Longest Day events across the nation to honor caregivers for their strength, heart and endurance. Patrick Eagan will honor his father’s strength as a caregiver. Join him and hundreds across the nation by honoring caregivers and fathers this Sunday.
A story has haunted my subconscious for some time now, as a recurring dream or daydream as my mind drifts away from my daily work. I began to write about a sea captain for weeks, trying to understand who the man in my dreams was:
I sit in the corner, my knees in my chest with my arms wrapped around and I watch the captain, his eyes wide, flashed with horror, his jaw clenched together so tight, I fear I may see tissue and muscle explode out of his cheeks, and tears, salty tears running from his eyes, passing left and right through the river delta wrinkles of his aged face to be engulfed by his white beard. My god how aged his face is; it appears more worn now than I can ever recall. His white flesh drained of any pigmentation, looking completely ill, until, like a tremor from within he cannot contain, his neck begins to boil with redness, the veins expand with the rush of oxygenated blood, his yellow teeth, clenched, revealed for the first time, crooked, until his mouth expands and the word bellow out of him for his beloved ship.
The sound trails off as the redness in his face peaks, receding back down below, his veins vanishing, teeth gone, and he is pale once more. The blackish grey, misty white water is pummeling his beloved, rolling violent wave after violent wave, the brutality of Poseidon’s wrath. All instruments beeping at him, utterly useless now; there is nothing for him to do but ride the storm out and hope for the best demise for his ship and crew.
The sea captain felt so familiar to me. It was as if he was someone close in my life and the more I wrote, the clearer it became to me that the sea captain is my father. The ship is my mother. And the storm is Alzheimer’s.
At the age of 45, my mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, becoming the next unfortunate soul to fall in the line of a ruthless family lineage. She was a vessel of love that carried the love of her family, the love of my father, and even physically carried my siblings and me for nine months. She had deadly seas in front of her, but my dad made it his mission to ride out the storm with her.
From day one of the diagnosis, my dad was determined to keep my mother at home and like any good sea captain, he was only as good as the crew around him – my siblings were the best crew around. My dad’s steady hand guided us through the ups and downs of the disease as we traversed the treacherous waterways – the depression, the laughter, the screaming, and the memories. My mother lost the ability to drive, to speak, to use the restroom, to walk, and to eat, which ultimately led our family to in-home hospice.
The weeks she spent hospice care were the hardest for all of us to deal with, but none more than my father. The five and a half year journey was reaching its chilling conclusion. When I would visit with him, the stoic and heroic image I had of him was starting to crack as the disease was tearing him apart. I would see his full range of emotions; from laughter when my mother was sticking her tongue out at us, to the frustration of not being able to fix her, to the sadness of watching his beloved wife wither away in front of his eyes.
My mother passed away in March. Our vessel succumbed to the storm and now is buried at sea leaving us adrift and alone to make our way back to shore and put our lives back together.
But what I have learned from this is that my father will always be my sea captain, with his steady hand guiding me through life and teaching me so I can guide the ship of my own life. And as we reach the shore and restart our lives, I hope to continue to sail for a long time with my father. I just hope for calmer seas ahead.
To protect his privacy, Patrick Eagan has used an alias to publish this story.