A Portrait of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s, we have all heard of it. It looms. It frightens. We dread the diagnosis. No not me, not my family. Alzheimer’s is a progressive dementia. It steals away memories. It’s not selective it’s random.
After my mother died, I took care of my father who had Alzheimer’s. It was as if my mother carried off a large part of him, seemingly leaving only a shell of him behind. I believed that because our memories inform our personality the inability to remember would erase my father’s inner persona.
Thankfully I was wrong.
This portrait of my father taken a few months before he died is so incredibly special to me. It is a window into the duality of my father’s psyche as the veil of dementia was overtaking him. It is a gift of sorts from him to me, and you, as I did not see it until after he died. I know he would want me to share it as it may bring solace to others dealing with Alzheimer’s. It shows both his inner calm and his unwavering strength of purpose.
When I look at this photograph I see the strong father I always knew and the man he had become, vulnerable and fragile, yet persevering. In fact, he completely choreographed this photograph himself. First he removed his shirt bearing his extremely thin, yet seemingly strong physique. Then he graciously reclined in a pose strangely reminiscent of Titian’s painting, The Venus of Urbino. As I pressed the shutter and looked back at him through my lens it was as if I was seeing him for the first time. Here was my Dad, the man I always looked up to for his strength and athleticism now a skeleton, completely emaciated. He weighed only 120 lbs. at 5 feet 10 inches tall. Oddly, he seemed proud of his physique and then in a very matter-of-fact manner he stated, “I am waiting to die. I have lived long enough. I’m comfortable and I don't have any health issues.” And then he laughingly quipped in his best Bogart accent, “And that's the good and the bad news.” This special moment summed my father up perfectly. He had a quick wit and an increasingly satirical sense of humor. His manner was upbeat, and his matter-of-fact attitude about his Alzheimer’s and eventual death an acquiescent one. He often told me, “There's no reason to worry, be comforted in knowing that just as the sun will fully set in one place, it will rise again someplace else.”