Daddy, dementia and me: ‘I know this may be about more than his haircut’

I know they know my emotion and sadness is more about the ‘long goodbye’ of dementia

George Ryan.

George Ryan.

 

If Daddy didn’t have dementia and wasn’t incarcerated in a nursing home in the wild west of Ireland, he could take on a whole new identity as Ireland’s Last Mohican. Honestly, I could have cried when I saw his shaved head and strip of white hair standing on top of his bowed crown as he snored like a geriatric tractor on a recent afternoon visit.

What made it worse was that about four months ago the nursing home’s over-enthusiastic hairdresser had also turned him into a cross between a Pawnee Indian and a member of the second World War airborne division of the 506th Parachute Infantry Division. On this occasion, the lovely nurses and carers forewarned me about the new look. Daddy’s full head of hair has always been a defining characteristic, along with his “Columbo” trench coat, a spare Major slipped over his ear, his dodgy Dundalk accent and that wicked, wicked, twinkle in his bold brown eyes.

So, here I am, knocking on the office door with tears in my eyes asking how George has almost been scalped for the second time by the “Barber of Mayo”.

With tears still in my eyes, I’m thinking how such incidents expose the utter vulnerability of an old person dependent on the care of others

“I know this may be about more than his haircut,” I say, as the nurse manager and owner reassure me it was a mistake and that it “definitely” would not happen again. They are so kind and I know they know my emotion and sadness is more about “the long goodbye” of dementia.

“He could be dead before it grows back,” I mutter to myself as I walk down the corridor to his bedroom.

Of course, the irony is that Daddy doesn’t care at all; hasn’t even noticed. Although, I imagine that if he hadn’t been in the mood for the mowing operation he would have made himself quite clear about it. “I don’t give a shit about what my hair looks like, Áine. Have I ever told you that 95 per cent of the world is crippled by what they think the other five percent are saying about them?”

“Yes, Daddy, dozens of times.”

“Well I have never been one of that 95 percent, Áine.”

“I know, Daddy. I know.”

With tears still in my eyes, I’m thinking how such incidents expose the utter vulnerability of an old person dependent on the care of others, whether that is family or professionals. But I also know and appreciate that George’s fiery spirit, boyish rebelliousness and exceptional intelligence saves him and his loved ones from the worst realities that this horrible disease inflicts on its victims.

‘Damned thermal vest’

It seems like a million years now since I walked him from his apartment in Inchicore on a sultry thundery spring day in 2014 to an appointment with his GP. Half way down Sarsfield Road George decides he is perspiring too much, should not have worn “this damned thermal vest” and decides there is nothing for it but to take it off. There and then, in the middle of the pathway with lots of traffic flying by.

My blushes are ignored, my protestations, as usual, are dismissed.

I already know it is best to accept that the passing traffic is simply collateral damage to my mortification levels. But face flushed and heartbeat racing I beg him to allow the young mother who is walking towards us pushing a buggy and hauling a toddler to pass by before he starts his alfresco ablutions.

“Áine, have I ever told you before that ninety five percent of the world is crippled by what the other five percent might be thinking of them?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Unsurprisingly, I’m feeling I may need a consultation with the GP myself at this stage.

“I don’t know what causes this, Áine, but I am of the firm belief that I have always sweated more than the average person.”

George then proceeds to divest himself of his shirt, one button after another, takes off his vest, folds it and puts it into his carrier bag of medicines he has been told to bring to his appointment. Then, he takes out his big white handkerchief from his trousers pocket, raises each arm and with the precision of an artist putting the final touches to a painting gives both oxters a good seeing to.

“Ah! that is much better,” he says as he re-buttons his shirt.

“Now, where did you say we were going to, Áine?”

SERIES: Daddy, dementia and me
Part 1: I couldn’t see him so confused
Part 2: How can I tell him his son is dead?
Part 3: The stand-off about a car
Part 4: Daddy talks to me about Mammy
Part 5: He left the wedding for a cigarette
Part 6: If granny had drowned that day
Part 7: A drummer boy on your tree?
Part 8: Preoccupied with death

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