Yesterday my sister called to tell me– our dad had landscapers come and scrape the whole mad DIY gardening jungle into a sheet of lawn with a few trees for effect. As she recited the losses, she wept: “The jack in the pulpits, the wild irises, the roses–all of it gone, Sarah. All those plants I helped her propagate.” They gardened together for years before the dementia spun things entirely out of control. For a time it was their literal ground for connection, for crafting a living history together. And my father obliterated it.
I don’t know what to say to him. Of course I love him, which is always the first thing. But I’m having serious problems with some of the decisions and actions he’s made in later years. Growing up, I watched him and my mother wage simmering, bitter campaigns against their own parents. I’ve always tried to understand, even when it’s a struggle to empathize.
And I guess I do and I don’t understand my dad’s actions. My mother and all her array of damage defined the very parameters of my father’s life for long, long years. Nearer the end it grew intolerable. I understand the impulse he must feel to rid himself of all the pain and recrimination. I understand the compulsion to wipe the slate. But as our father he fails to consider how his actions might affect us. We don’t exist in his reckoning. Clean house. Check.
This sweep has gone on for months in donations to various organizations and enterprises. Longer than that– it started before Mom even died. When he gave away Uncle Sharkey, he said, “Mom agrees”– despite the fact that the dementia didn’t leave her with a whole lot of agency and decision-making capability. She sort of became an mostly-amiable, rather vague woman. My sister and I speculate that our father is building some type of legacy, but it’s a haphazard and idiosyncratic one if that.
As much as I try to wrangle the psychological reality he operates in, as a would-be parent, I just don’t get it at all. I would want my kids in better communication. If I were counting down my final days, my kids would be foremost in my thoughts. But as he systematically rids our childhood home of reminders and heirlooms, not once does he stop and turn us and say, I want this thing out of the house. Who will take it?
In truth we have never factored that prominently in his daily endeavors at all. So it’s really no change in behavior or outlook. It just comes into sharper focus when death enters the picture. We all want pieces to hold onto. When my mother died, I took a teaspoon of her ashes to keep in a cut glass perfume vial on my dresser. The dresser from my grandmother’s house. I have planted the Easter lilies I bought this year in her memory. These pieces continue and connect us, and they are important. And my father doesn’t see it, and I don’t know how to, or if I even can, tell him.