What Is My Dad’s Legacy and How Do I Preserve It?

When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, our family had the same disparaging realization with which far too many others have been met: he’s going to forget us. As his disease has progressed, however, I have also begun to think about not forgetting him. By this I mean not forgetting who he used to be, the father and husband and friend he was prior to his diagnosis.

My dad worked as a mechanical engineer, but his true love was carpentry. He had an extensive wood shop filled with both power and hand tools. He kept everything in fastidious order and treasured planes and chisels that he had kept from his grandfather. Taking that shop apart (when he moved to memory care) was heart wrenching for me. I had to keep it intact in some way because it was so much a part of him. So, I carefully photographed his tools, on his bench and I’m putting together a book to keep his shop alive and with us.

As his disease has progressed, however, I have also begun to think about not forgetting him.

With an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking about the future and its limitations, rather than relishing opportunities given to us in the day-to-day. This has definitely been true for me. My father is now in the later stages of the disease and so an incredible amount of time is spent in caretaking and care planning. But he’s still here with me now, and I need to celebrate that more. 

I am now trying to consciously build time into our visits to help me remember the things that are important to him.

Here’s my approach:

  1. Photos:
    We look through albums together and talk about the people in them. He is still doing pretty well with this. He loves photos of his childhood and his parents. He’s getting shaky on the more recent past. He’ll confuse me with my sister or think my son is my brother, but that’s ok because it gets him talking and telling stories about people.

  2. Recordings: 
    I’ve started making short clips with my phone. Sometimes he’ll mention someone or event in a way that I’ll want to share so I’ll press record and ask him to repeat it and try to get more details. 

There is also a conscious effort on my part to chronicle and preserve who he is to our family. I want to remember him and think of him before Alzheimer’s began to erode his personality. Moreover, I want that for his grandchildren: my sons and my nieces and nephews. 

I keep a journal beside my desk so when I think of something about him, I can write it down so I don’t forget. His quirky sayings, like, “The more you do, the more you have time to do”. Or is corny dad jokes, “You know that beer makes you more intelligent, right? — It made Bud wiser”.

It’s so hard to know if I’m doing enough, if it will be enough to keep his memory alive after he’s gone, but it’s bringing comfort to me and my siblings. He’s so much more than this disease and that’s what I want to keep forever.