A tribute to my dad, Ron Register this Father’s Day, June 19, 2022.
As I entered behind locked doors, the nurse saw me and said, “He’s probably still on the couch at the back of the hallway sleeping.”
“Can you unlock his door so I can set up a few things I bought for Father’s Day?”
As I walked into his room, I was reminded of how cold and impersonal it is now. All the pictures of his children and family have been taken down. Anything breakable has been removed. The room looks like it is waiting for someone to move in and make it their own. I know why it looks that way, but it still makes me sad.
I set up the Father’s Day card I purchased along with a little stuffed bulldog and a small bag of plain M&M’s. Dad loves candy and he loves Georgia bulldogs. When I bought the stuffed animal, I didn’t make the connection then, but as I write, it’s a sweet memory.
It only took me a few minutes. I made my way down the long hall to find the couch dad was sleeping on. As I entered the long hall, here he comes. The nurse woke him up and was walking with him toward me. His head still hanging low, walking ever so carefully, they along with another resident were headed in my direction at a snail’s pace.
When the nurse saw me, she said, “Register, looks who’s here! Look up Register, look up.”
“Oh yeah, who is it?” he murmured, his voice barely above a whisper, head still hung low.
“Look up Ron! It’s your daughter.”
“I don’t have a daughter.”
“Look up Ron, it’s your daughter.”
They came to a stop. We were within 15 feet of each other now.
He raised his head ever so slowly as I knelt down a little bit. We made eye contact and the biggest smile came across his face. Dad hadn’t smiled at me in a long time.
We embraced ever so tenderly for several minutes. The nurse grabbed my phone and took pictures.
“Happy Father’s Day Dad! To the best father I know, Happy Father’s Day!”
We walked arm in arm to the lunch room and sat in our usual spot. Today’s lunch – spaghetti with meat sauce, and vegetable medley.
As I sat there watching him eat, food falling from his spoon, I couldn’t help but remember the man he used to be.
He loved to dance every morning with a coffee cup in his hand. Dad was a great golfer who used to meet up with his pals for breakfast three days a week, eat breakfast and then play 18 holes. He loved my mother dearly and treated her well.
I will always remember shopping with Dad in an Ingles grocery store in Blairsville, Georgia. When we hit the cookie aisle, that guy would buy lots of different cookies. That would make mom mad because she knew all that sugar wasn’t good for him, but he didn’t care. When you’re 81 years old, who cares about sugar?
When he finished eating lunch, he rose from the table and we walked over to the small sofa and sat down.
“Do you know when they are going to finish this job?” he asked.
“Could be a few days. They are waiting on materials,” I replied.
“They never get this part right. I measure and measure, and it still comes out wrong.”
“Dad, no one will ever do the job like you. You were the best.”
“What’s the cost?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t got the bill yet.”
“Oh ok,” he replied as he sat slouched back in the sofa.
Every visit is about jobs. Dad retired years ago, but everything in his world now goes back to those days.
For a few minutes, we sat there in silence gazing out the window. No words were said and that’s ok. Being able to spend some time with him doesn’t require words even though it can feel like an eternity.
All of a sudden he sprang to his feet and announced he had to pee. I jumped up, and said, “Ok, let’s go to the bathroom. Come on, come this way.”
He may be 83, but he has forgotten some things. I led him to the bathroom and helped him close to the toilet. People with dementia forget things. Dad doesn’t have a problem going to the bathroom anywhere, and sometimes anywhere is just fine with him, even if in the main dining room or a trash receptacle. But today, he managed to put the liquid in the right hole, flush, and wash his hands. I was so happy.
There are days when it doesn’t go as planned. What he used to do is gone. I often say if he knew what he was doing now, he would be mortified.
I liken it to a toddler. We teach them how to use the potty, feed themselves, wash, and speak. Toddlers are full of energy and they can get messy. Dad has dementia and is in a memory care facility. His unit has about 10 dementia patients, all of them in varying stages of the disease, but have progressed to the more advanced stages of the disease. It breaks my heart as I watch them try and feed themselves, or walk around. They are like little kids. They make messes and do many things toddlers do but at a much slower speed.
What were they like before this awful disease robbed them of their memory? What did they do for a living? Do they have children? Do their children come to see them? How long have they been suffering from dementia?
Each story is unique.
I am thankful for the staff that cares for them. They are always patient and tender with each resident, but they have their hands full. One would think there’s nothing to do in those places. What could possibly happen in a memory care facility? From my visits, I can tell you a lot can happen in a short time. These medical people are a gift to the families and residents in these facilities.
As we sat back down on the couch, Dad leaned back into the couch, head hung down, eyelids heavy, and mumbled, “Thank you for coming sweetheart. I’m tired.”
I got down on my knees and looked up into his half-opened eyes, as tears rolled down my face and said, “Dad, you are the best dad I know. I love you, and I will see you again real soon.”
He looked at me with half a grin and then laid down.
As I drove home in the pouring rain, I remembered the love he always had for me. While he is not my blood father, he never let that be a barrier to our relationship. For almost 20 years, he treated me well, was always kind, and was very knowledgeable about many things. Perfectionist comes to mind. The man built roads and bridges for the state and loved trains. No one ever had an unkind thing to say about Ron Register. Even now, the nurses love him. He may throw his meds across the room or pee in a trash can, but they don’t care. They love him anyway.
I don’t how much longer he will be on this earth, but I am thankful for all the time I get to spend with him, even if he doesn’t remember my name or how we’re related. At this point, it doesn’t matter as long as he is being taken care of and I get to see him.
People cross our paths for many reasons. Sometimes we don’t know why, but the Lord knows. I am thankful our paths crossed.
Happy Father’s Day Ron Register! Happy Father’s Day!
Mary Barbera – Autism Mom ABA Help