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Keeping the memory alive

A daughter’s account of living with her father, a patient of Alzheimer’s Disease.

health and fitness Updated: Sep 30, 2009 20:11 IST

My father, Hansraj Ramlal Kataria died on March 2, earlier this year. He was 82. He had Alzheimer’s. He had developed the condition sometime in his late 70s, but my brother and his family, who were staying with him didn’t realise it till a year ago, when he was admitted to a hospital after a fall. It was then that we got to know he had AD. The doctor attending him realised something was wrong, when my father told him that his wife – my mother – was waiting for him downstairs in a tonga, and that he wanted to be released from the hospital immediately. My mother had passed away five years ago.

My father always had a soft corner for me. It probably had something to do with my disability — I had had a polio attack as a child, and haven’t been able to walk properly ever since. Even after my marriage, my father would call me up over the slightest pretext just to talk to me and ask how I was doing. After my husband left me — my second child was only a year old at the time — my father was my pillar of strength. He would say, “Renu, don’t even think about accepting him back.”

I used to run a PCO booth close to where I stayed in Vashi. I used to open the booth at 6 am. My father, who also stayed on the same lane, would come by 9 am and sit there, so I could return home, make breakfast for my children — the elder one is a girl, my younger one is a boy — and pack them off to school. Then I’d return to the booth and my father would leave for his auto parts shop in Kurla. In the evening, he’d come back to my booth again, so I could go home and cook dinner for the children. He did this every day for several years. He was truly the only support system I had at the time.

Five years ago, I shifted to Kopar Khairne. My daughter was 17 then. She started working in a BPO two years later. I would take catering orders, and even worked as a cook to sustain our family. Now my daughter’s earnings sustain us.

After his fall, my father stayed with me for a week. Then my brother asked me to bring him back home because people were taunting him for not fulfilling his responsibility towards his father. A few months later, my brother brought him back to my place saying that it was getting very difficult to take care of my father. He asked me to look after him, as he was visiting Shirdi. But after returning to the city, my brother never called for my father.

By then Papa was nearly bed-ridden, and had lost bladder control. Money was scarce, but my daughter and I took him for regular visits to his doctor, kept his medication going, and even bought him adult diapers. He’d often forget that he’d eaten, and would scold me for not feeding him at all. Sometimes he’d hit me. If I got cross with him for not washing his mouth inside the vessel I was holding out for him, he’d get terribly angry. I learnt never to get angry with him, no matter what he did.

Sometimes, he’d suddenly call me to his room and tell me, “There’s a bundle of money in my almirah — go take that. Don’t wait for that fool to return.” He remembered that my husband had left me, he just didn’t realise it was over 16 years ago. He’d also ask me for change for the bus fare to Kurla. He remembered his shop, and the work he did. But he’d forgotten that it had been several years since he’d stopped going to the shop.

He’d drag himself to the kitchen to be with me while I was cooking, saying that it was cooler in the kitchen than in his room. But I knew my father simply wanted to be with me. I knew that he had lost his sense of time, and was often confused, but I knew my father remembered the things that truly mattered — like the fact that I loved him. I only wish I could have spent more time with him.