Jim was 57 years old….he was not my patient - but maybe he was. I cared for Jim’s father, Richard. After a lifetime of great professional success and now at the age of 90, Richard’s memory had started to slip. First it was names, then dates, then breakfast. He initially had some awareness of his failings - and so frustration creeped in.
Then, as time moved on, even that awareness disappeared. Dementia. Soon Richard couldn’t even tell you what day it was. And he didn’t recognize his own son, Jim. ‘Time it was and what a time it was, it was A time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph; Preserve your memories, there all that’s left you’. (Simon and Garfunkel) Sadly, Richard no longer had any memories. And sadly, his son Jim was feeling desperate; crying. Wanting his father back, if even for a few minutes. Jim pleaded with me, even yelled at me, as if I had some magic to bring his father back. But, except in rare cases, dementia is not reversible. There was nothing I could do. And so I sat with Jim as he wept. Jim shared that he and his father had a falling out years before; a stupid argument. And then pride got in the way. No efforts made to reconcile. And years of estrangement. Jim now wanted to tell his father how sorry he was, how much he loved him - but Richard’s eyes simply did not register. And Jim was left alone. In my work, I have witnessed this all too many times. Life is short; life is precious. Mistakes are made. No parent and no child is perfect. Don’t wait too long, because you may never have the chance to ask for or to give forgiveness. ‘I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away I called him up just the other day I said “I’d love to see you if you don’t mind.” He said “I’d love to Dad if I can find the time.” (Harry Chapin) That last phrase, ‘if I can find the time’, resonated as I tried to comfort a 57 year old son.