Today is the first Father's Day since my father died and I'm feeling... well, the truth is that I'm feeling nothing at all, except a sense of relief that I don't have to deal with him in the setting of the holiday. I had to remind myself that it was Father's Day and when I remembered, it seemed like a day off. I feel like I'm out from under. Maybe he is, too. It's a sort of liberation, a small one, but a liberation nevertheless.
Sorry if this sounds harsh. Emotions around holidays are always complicated, and in Alzheimer's, there's the added complication that your sentiments get broken up and scattered in parts along the timeline. My grief over Father's Days - and the whole contrast game ("he used to be like this, but now he's like this") happened years ago. Here's where we were in 2008, and here's where we were in 2009. And of course there's a long string of emotions and detachments over the several years before that. You can trace his decline in the gifts I gave him. As I've noted before, when he was whole, there were always books, mostly popular history (the new Nathan Philbrick book about Custer would have been perfect). Two years ago I had to shift to picture books, because he couldn't cope with text. Last year I gave up on books altogether. This year, if he'd survived the winter, I would have bought him some sort of clothing - or maybe not even that, now that I think about it. They were going to put him into jumpsuits to keep him from exposing himself to the other residents. So - slippers, maybe? Or something for the bed? And a card he wouldn't have understood. Actually, he wouldn't have understood what any of the celebration was about. By this point he might not have recognized me at all. Better for him to be out of it. The first Father's Day without him? Nah, that happened a long time ago.
Of course, he gets some of the credit for my sense of detachment. Back in the day, we never took Father's Day all that seriously. He liked to use it - this was one of his ongoing riffs - as an opportunity to introduce me to the concept of public relations. He loved talking about how Father's Day had been created by the cigar industry as an opportunity to sell cigars - the idea being that the manufacturers envied what the florists had been able to do with Mother's Day and came up with a peak sales day of their own. I'm not sure he was right about the cigar industry - men's clothing manufacturers may have played a bigger part. But clearly commercial promotions helped put the day on the map. The point for him is that he never wanted the day to be awash in sentiment, so I'm not about to start now. In practice we often moved Father's Day around the calendar - for several years I spent the day traveling to one meeting or another, and so we'd celebrate as much as two weeks late. The relationship counted more than the day, which for me is still the case.
Though on the other hand... in the 2008 entry, I mentioned the wristwatch I'd bought him. It was a cheap, sturdy Timex Expedition with an olive drab canvas strap. As I wrote at the time, he couldn't read his digital watch anymore so I got him one with an analog face. He liked it - that was when he told me that he could finally stop asking people the time and "I can go back to being an adult now." He was able to cope with the analog display for a few more months. Even after he couldn't, he kept wearing it. He'd tell visitors about how I'd bought it for him, or his father had bought it for him, or his nonexistent brother had bought it for him, or I'd bought it for him in the role of his father or his nonexistent brother or his adopted son or the good friend he'd met during the war. Sometimes he'd try to tell time with it, which usually involved his pointing to some part of his forearm, maybe or maybe not in proximity to the watch, and saying something mostly incomprehensible. He wore it all the way to the nursing home, and he was wearing it when he died. The funeral home gave it back to me. I thought of it a moment ago and pulled it out from under a pile of papers and now it's sitting on my desk, ticking away (he took a licking, it kept on ticking...) I'll keep it there for a while, probably until the battery gives out, then I'll put it next to his father's pocket watch, which I also own.
In other words, I'm detached and not detached, and Father's Day is meaningless except that it made me think about the watch, which had slipped my mind, and now I seem to be sitting here reflecting about it.
A sense of detachment is a valuable thing but apparently it's not the only sentiment on the boards. Relationships stay alive and there's always something new to work with.
That being the case, I'll have to keep sifting the debris.
If you've just had an Alzheimer's Father's Day, well, I'm sorry. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it's been better than it is or full of hidden blessings because it's not - it's every bit as bad as it seems. But it might give you something worthwhile later, even if you don't fully understand what that is.
I'll let you know what mine was if I ever figure it out.