By Annie Burgamy
sun-burnt, smiling face disguises well the loss he is already
experiencing; only his voice betrays him, “Joan who is playing
today?” Pa Pa asks over and over again. Mom repeatedly answers
in a voice that becomes noticeably less patient as her own fears
become secretly more intense. In less than a year, Pa Pa’s once
vivid blue eyes have become dull and faded, and for the family,
the process of deciphering his jumbled requests have become an
even greater challenge.
The small house Pa Pa built as a younger man is now his prison.
There are bolts on the windows and doors to prevent him from
escaping into a world that he no longer understands. Behind the
house is Pa Pa’s small garden; once nurtured by him, it is now a
neglected, overgrown jungle.
irrational fears, intensified by the darkness of nightfall, create
problems for the whole family. His trembling hands pick up objects
seen only by his eyes, his conversations are directed toward people
that exist only in his confused world. We, his caregivers, are the
only ones exhausted by Pa Pa’s constant wanderings around the house.
He is never weary, and seems to have forgotten how to sleep.
Pizza boxes and
newspapers are pulled lovingly from the trash and stacked on the
kitchen table; shoes are stuffed into the refrigerator; toothpaste
is eaten and chairs are stacked up and climbed as if they were
ladders. Magazines, cushions and clothes are scattered around the
room. The scene is reminiscent of the chaos a group of
five-year-olds might cause at a birthday party. Illuminated only by
the ghostly blue glow from his computer, my husband tries, without
success, to escape this endless chaos. After trying on an ashtray
for size, Pa Pa suddenly becomes calm and still, the melodic jingle
of the dog collar he is shaking fascinates him, but only briefly.
slowly consuming him from within, his ability to sleep, bathe and
dress himself, talk and eat are fragmented at best. The torrents of
words that now constantly tumble from his mouth have no meaning; all
verbal connections with us are now gone. His eyes, although open,
are blind to our world, and his body fluids are spilled without his
He is no longer
Pa Pa; all that is left is a frightened, confused man who no longer
knows his own family. He will eventually forget how to breathe; his
death will be our final loss, and although we will grieve for him,
we will be thankful.