My parents, like many other Portuguese immigrants, embarked on a journey with suitcases full of hopes and dreams. Arriving in Canada on November 7, 1977, they sought to renew their lives. However, life has presented them with new challenges to face.
As we go through the emotional ups and downs, we maneuver our state of mind each day during this unpredictable time. For me, I feel my heart ever so gently say goodbye to my hero, my protector, the patriarch of my family… my paezinho… to Alzheimer’s disease.
During this time of social distancing, it has been tremendously hard for my father to fathom why I cannot hug, kiss or break bread with him. I explain in the simplest of terms for him, in the hopes he may understand. Yet, moments later, he Facetime calls me. “Why are you not visiting daddy? You are punishing me? What did daddy do?”. Yet again, with all my love for him, I explain as tears roll down his eyes.
As Alzheimer’s disease robs me of the wind beneath my wings, I have replaced the quest for happiness in exchange for the quest of presence. I don’t seek for things to be different, as I recognize the curse that comes with the gift of life. I seek for a place of alignment in its raw and naked form from resistance to nonresistance. I bow down to the power of cause and effect, which has beautifully orchestrated my life and many others. Death is a continuation of life and we cannot have one without the other.
From the moment we are conceived, we are already dying. We transition from stage to stage: infancy to childhood; young adulthood to adulthood; to our elderly years. I look at death as the next stage of the circle of life, which goes unseen.
There is a universal understanding of this gift and curse. We are suffering and honour it, while doing so in our own unique ways. We have all lost something or someone and learn to accept it is what it is. Pain is democratic. Pain is a needle crafting the tapestry of life. My paezinho’s Alzheimer taught me to be present; to live within the moment. I am breathing, I am alive… the isness of the present is here. I take charge of my happiness by acceptance of the isness, so as to liberate myself of the sadness. Which is to say, to give recognition to the conditions that I cannot change; to seek happiness not pain.
My father… he never sold me a prescription bottle of perfection with a quick expiration date. He sold me the slogan, “I should be, I could be, I will be”. He believed that we are all sovereign beings with no jurisdictions. There is no questioning the impact this played on my upbringing; the lady I am today is in due part thanks to him.
As I lose my father every day slowly to this horrible disease, I question myself “When will his needs outweigh what my family can provide him?”. As Alzheimer’s disease creates its path of destruction, pae can no longer speak English. Many of the skills which enabled him to flourish in Canada have long been diminished, forgotten and replaced with confusion. In his time of need, as his daughter, what can I do to ensure his needs are met with due attention and support? No longer capable of visiting Portugal, I must bring it to him.
He took a leap of faith when he came to Canada many years ago, let us honour our parents today with courage and gratitude.
Never forget the hand that raised you…
Sara Dias Oliveira/MS