Daddy, dementia and me: the stand-off about a car that was sold three years ago
Reminiscing about a father’s car and driving him down memory lane to try to retrieve it
Áine Ryan and her father, George: “After I strap him into the front seat of my car we head off on a most bizarre wild goose chase.”
So I arrive at the nursing home around my usual mid-afternoon time and Daddy is having yet another stand-off about his car. The car that was sold over three years ago. The last car in which he drove down the byways and boreens of Ireland covering bridge congresses for The Irish Times until 2014.
The lovely staff have already brought him outside in search of the errant car.
He claims it is just “down there, through the gate and around the corner”.
We all know the only mobile entity down there is a sheep that is partial to the long acre.
George’s confusion has been compounded by the fact that some clever hospital doctor – during his last sojourn on a trolley – decided to take him off his Alzheimer’s medication because he had fallen a few times and was increasingly unsteady on his feet. So now Daddy is no longer shuffling along in a zenned-out daze, but gamboling more like a mountain goat just untethered from its mother for the first time.
I offer it up. Is there no such thing as joined-up thinking in our hospitals?
Shouldn’t the doctors confer with the expert nurses under whose constant care people like daddy are? Instead, in this case, the nursing home staff had to defer to the new prescription until they organised a psychiatric assessment. Ultimately, he was represcribed his Alzheimer’s drug, albeit with a tweaked dose.
In the meantime, daddy was in bold boy mode, quoting his rights under Bunreacht na hÉireann and cursing like a sailor.
“You don’t have a car anymore, daddy. It was sold three years ago because your short-term memory loss meant it was dangerous for you to drive.”
“Stop bullshitting me, Áine. Do you think I am some kind of a f***ing eejit?”
“Daddy, You know the way you always say that while you may have lost your short-term memory, you haven’t lost your powers of reasoning, please listen to me.”
Corridor and coat
Not a chance. He is gone, striding down the corridor for his coat. If I won’t help him find his car, he’ll do it himself.
Back in his bedroom, I try to calm him down. The nurse suggests I read him his “story”: how he has been in the nursing home for the last three years; that it is in Westport and not Dublin; that I live nearby and visit him regularly . . . that he doesn’t have a car anymore.
I have become a pastmaster at calming George down, distracting him with a crossword: he can still ace the Simplex even when he is half-asleep. I turn on Judge Judy, his favourite television programme.
“She is a very fair judge, Áine, even if she hates alcoholics.” (George always says AA saved him from his relatively brief but excessive indulgence in booze during his 30s and early 40s.)
There is no calming him on this occasion though. In the end, there is nothing for it but to put on his Columbo trench coat and cap, sign him out and go looking for the elusive car.
“Okay, let’s go find it, daddy.”
His sense of relief is palpable, his confusion calmed, as my heart thumps in my throat.
After I strap him into the front seat of my car we head off on a most bizarre wild goose chase. He orders me not to take the usual bend back towards Westport but to drive straight on through a Bermuda triangle of narrow roads strewn with lumps of kelp that eventually bring us to the edge of Clew Bay.
Around the corner
“It is just around the next corner, Áine. No, maybe, it is the next one. I think it’s black. Or was it blue? I just can’t remember its registration.”
“Is that it?”
“No, Daddy. That’s a Mayo registration.”
At this stage we have landed on main street Westport and there is a choice of every brand, colour and type of car one’s heart desires.
“What the hell am I going to do now?” I’m thinking.
I barely breathe as I ignore his chorus of car-spotting. I keep driving, across Shop Street, up the Quay Hill, past the high stone walls of Westport House and down towards the Point. The waters of the harbour are still. The pyramidal outline of Croagh Patrick is clear and snowcapped.
“What mountain is that, Daddy?”
“It’s a holy one, Áine.”
At last, we sit in silence lulled by the beauty of this natural amphitheatre.
“Will you recite me your favourite, poem, Daddy?”
Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting,
For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together,
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather.
SERIES: Daddy, dementia and me
Part 1: I couldn’t face seeing him so confused
Part 2: How can I tell daddy 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