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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published June 19 2011

Bursack: Celebrate Father’s Day in your own special way

Dear Readers: Though my dad has been physically gone from my life for a number of years, he stays with me in spirit.

In a strange way, perhaps, it’s easier to celebrate the idea of Father’s Day now that he’s gone than it was during his last years of his life.

Dad had suffered a brain injury during World War II, and some of that damage was catching up with him as he aged. A surgery that was intended to prevent dementia backfired, and he was instantly thrown into a skewed version of reality.

For 10 years, Dad was still Dad – yet he wasn’t. On holidays, Mom, my sister Beth and I made sure he had extra visits at the nursing home, gifts, flowers and special treats. Our brother did what he could from afar. However, Dad was often asleep or disoriented to the point that he had no real idea what we were celebrating.

We were more fortunate as a family than many people because Dad knew who we were. Many people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s aren’t even recognized by their ill parent. So, yes, that was a blessing. Yet the reason for any special day was generally foggy to Dad, as it often is to those with other advanced dementias.

So why do we celebrate when the person being honored doesn’t understand what is going on, especially since “going through the motions” can be emotionally difficult for the family?

My feeling is that we celebrate the person, no matter what he or she seems to understand. We celebrated our love for Dad and his love for us.

Families celebrate what was, to be sure. But we also celebrate what is, simply because a person with dementia, no matter how advanced, is still a person worthy of our best efforts.

Never would it have occurred to anyone in my family to not celebrate Father’s Day because Dad had been robbed of his ability to take it all in. Dad was Dad, the most loving father anyone could desire. If his post-surgery reality was not our reality, it was still up to us to honor him. On a good day, he may understand some of the significance of the holiday. If not, our small efforts were still worthwhile.

Today I celebrate Dad in my heart because to me he’s more whole now, though with us in a different way, than during that decade of dementia. So I celebrate you, Dad, as I always will – with love, respect and gratitude in my heart.

Happy Father’s Day.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.