Everyone wants to grow old. I mean, I’ve never met anyone who craved badly to kick the bucket in their 30’s or less, except they’re been tormented by poverty and her colleagues; sickness, hunger, beggary, hardship, pity, you know them all. Suicide is the exit. Sometimes I wonder, is it a cliche desire to want to grow old? Or is it something we’ve individually sat down to reflect about and reckoned that we want it… badly enough? If you knew what awaits you in your old age, would you still fancy an entry into the phase? In my opinion, there are two sides to old age; Beauty and Torment. A man may experience only one, but most men would have their face stuffed on both sides of the plate. At this stage, choice would not be confusion, rather the physical and the supernatural makes the choice for you.
Who Daddy Was
Watching my father for the past seven years, I have an elevated share of the torment old age gifts. How do I even begin? Imagine this, one person who almost all your life was well forfeited, vigorous, a lion who would protect and a lamb who could be meek, but never weak. His temper was Jehovian, mercurial and we feared him. Discipline was his love language, I can’t throw many stones of fault, he is African. That’s what we do best, beat our children into submission, beat out any cockiness of bravery they might have. I rated him more infallible than a pope and then poof!! Like a wilting flower, his feathers started to shed. There is no other way to sugarcoat this, my old man has dementia.
Before the hit, I remember the good young days. My dad nurtured me and my siblings in ‘the way of the truth’. He is(was) a hardcore Christian. My mum who is currently a retired civil servant at a point in our lives, she was redeployed to Abuja from Lagos where she was with the Ministry of Communications. It was a difficult time for us but my dad ascended the task. At that time, it was me, my elder sister, and my two younger brothers. When she traveled to Abuja, she took along the last-born. She tried to come home at least once every two or three months. At the time my dad was an auto-mechanic, and an elder in our religious circle (name withheld). It wasn’t easy raising four boisterous children on his own, and most evenings I could see the strain on his face.
I would forever be grateful to him. Not once were we made to feel that we were lacking even though we were not financially buoyant. At the time we lived in a one room apartment, popularly called face-me-I-face-you somewhere near Òkòkó, Lagos State, Nigeria. Despite the slow income lifestyle, we attended a private school with a British curriculum (this has been very instrumental in shaping who I am today). As much as he loved to break his back, my father was also a strict disciplinarian.
I remember coming home one day from school and not finding our black and white television where it always sat. Me and my siblings panicked and called the neighbors, the only logical answer was that someone broke in and stole it. We later found out that he was the one that took it away. He said we watched too much TV and he wanted us to take reading seriously. This decision made even more deficient my already weak social life. I had no TV to watch, so I turned to books for entertainment. This pleased my dad to no end even though later on, he would complain about my choice of books when I started reading novels and other genres.
At about the time I finished primary school, my mum resigned (early retirement). It was also around that time we moved to Badagry where my parents owned a piece of land and had erected a structure. Few months later my immediate younger brother would die of acute malaria. Those were rough times.
The Straw That Broke Daddy’s Back
The fact is that, if you don’t have a loved one who suffers dementia, you have no idea how hard it can be. It is very heartbreaking. When can I say he started to deteriorate? In our religious circle, he was an elder a long time before he even got married. He had vast experience, and over the years had taken on a number of key positions. Unfortunately, he was stripped off his eldership due to some decisions he made regarding his children. To spill the beans our religious circle frowns at higher education but he threw caution to the wind and funded our university education. The consequences rattled him badly.
Imagine a moment where a title that crowns your whole existence is taken forcefully from you? It was his identity and the lack of it wrecked him into chronic depression. In 2015, when I finished university, I came to meet a man I almost did not recognize. He was a shell of his former self. I was angry. I pitied him. This (and other factors) deepened my disdain for religion in general. We all knew he was depressed, he would drive his tricycle, return home tired and just eat and sleep. Even on Sundays when we did things together as a family, he would just mope around.
Dementia is a terrible thing to suffer. It’s mutual suffering for the patient and their loved ones. My dad used to be a very avid reader, a trait I took from him, however, something abnormal started to happen. Gradually he couldn’t pronounce familiar words. His activeness amid his circle of friends too started to wane. It became embarrassing seeing his friends and acquaintances try to juggle his memory and he would just shake his head forlornly.
As this happened repeatedly, we knew something was wrong. Even my dad knew something was wrong. Often, he would call me aside and tell me he was losing his memory. When I went to his room, I would see notes scattered about, notes he had written to help jog his memory. Being a well educated family, we concluded they were signs of dementia then sought medical help. It’s quite expensive. We did a private hospital routine for a while until my mum insisted on trado-medical treatments because it’s more effective and less expensive. My mum is only a pensioner and myself and siblings are ascending the career ladder, we wouldn’t want something that wrecks the entire ship.
Dementia has no relapse. Once you have it, it’s progressive. It only gets worse. The only thing you can do is treat it so it can be managed. Now he can’t remember his children’s names and only calls us by our pet names. I’m Omo ìyá (mother’s child), as he fondly calls me. Me and my siblings have left home. I go home once in a while to visit. These visits are always bittersweet. There’s my mother looking all frustrated and worn out from all the care, they’ve been married for 32 years. And then dad, asking me the same questions over and over again cause he forgets the answer every five minutes. At first, he sees me, he smiles, and calls me Omo ìyá. Five minutes later, he sees me and he’s asking “When did you get home, have I seen you today?”
He likes to wander, and nobody goes along with him. My mom just complains, I know she’s scared but I try to make her at ease cause my dad has assured me sometime that when he walks about, his head is clear and he will always know the way back home. I sincerely hope he keeps knowing the way home.
One terrible thing about dementia is that the patient believes those around them to be their enemies. Strong word? He uses the word enemy to describe my mum sometimes especially when she tries to stop him from going out and wandering. He retorts that she is holding him back. However, his spirituality tames him perfectly. He has never abhorred violence of any kind.
Having a loved one suffering dementia is not something to be ashamed of. Why should anyone be though? It’s an attendant effect of old age. We’ve done well to inform the neighbors and Landlords Community Association where he was once the financial secretary. Almost everybody knows how to react when he keeps repeating questions.
Seeing A Parent Fall Sick
Sometimes I ask myself; if my dad had retained his eldership position, would dementia have set in? Probably, I don’t know. What I know is, the fons et origo of his depression was his being yanked off something he obviously loved doing. One thing I’m taking out of all this is never to attach my happiness to anything, or anybody. My dad attached his happiness to his eldership, his religion and fell apart when it was taken from him.
I love my dad, I know my siblings love him too (it’s so hard to read them). I feel for him. I feel for the loving dad who bought me a bottle of Coca-Cola when I finally learnt how to tell the time correctly. I feel for the loving dad who would trek to my school from his workplace to give me my lunch box when I forgot it at home (I was quite forgetful as a kid). I think he deserves more. I know he deserves more. I also feel for my mum. They love each other deeply, I admired how he was always attentive to her needs and especially loved how he brightened whenever she was around. I can’t imagine how it must be for her now, seeing her once active husband now behaving like an infant. It must be very tough on her.
It’s painful seeing a parent fall sick especially in their old age where it hits you that they would not be here forever. And a hurtful truth is that life is moving by too fast, you cannot offer them your presence as much as you wished. Taking care of a sick parent (a loved one generally) comes with every shade of fear, it exhausts you emotionally, physically, and financially. Whenever my phone rings, and it’s my mum, I’m scared of what she might say. One way or the other, we’ve all had our share of fear of losing our parents. Some have already lost, some have won the battle that may only last a while, and some would have their experience soon. I’d like to learn about your own personal experience/ unique ways in catering for your parents. Importantly, what do you reckon as best ways we can care for our parents in their old age or in sickness, despite chasing a busy career path or better put amid trying to find our footing in real adulthood.
The Old Age Gamble
Like I asked earlier, if you knew what awaits you in your old age, would you still fancy an entry into the phase? Dementia is one out of a hundred illnesses that is associated with old age. You don’t know what will happen, the phase is a gamble. I’ve heard some folks say they do not want to live beyond 70, because it can be so stressful. Beyond the age, you have no dream of becoming anything, you just want to witness what your children would become. The excitement of living is dependent on what others can do for you or achieve for you. Except the rich folks who are a bit different in the sense that they do not become a financial burden to their loved ones. Would you like to turn old and gray? What are you most afraid of that could befall your old age? And the ultimate question, is old age a blessing or a curse? Let’s discuss in the comment section.