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May 31, 2014

Last Photo

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alzheimers-brain
Today I discovered the last photograph that my father took before the Alzheimer's stripped away his confidence with the camera. It was taken in January 2013, and is a simple image of the sun reflecting from and intensifying the colour of the green grass in a section of my parent's garden.

Other images from the same shoot are simple portraits of my parent's home, filled with stuff, filled with colour, but strangely emulating my father's mind in its emptiness.

Although many of the photos preceding these are filled with images of people - my niece at various events at her school, for example - dotted within the collection are images that poignantly reflect my father's state of mind - they seem odd at a cursory glance, but they reflect an innocence and a loneliness that I cannot get out of my mind.

I cannot imagine the turmoil that my father was going through. His type of the disease - Early Onset Alzheimer's - is genetic, and struck him in the prime of his life: he is now only 57 years old, and it has taken about four years for his memory to be absolutely gone, and the late stage symptoms to begin showing, such as enhanced weight loss, loss of muscle definition, the inability to wash or care for oneself, heightened aggression, easy aggravation, and an unawareness of one's surroundings, including whether or not someone is talking to you. I don't want to undermine the suffering of those twice my father's age who also have Alzheimer's, but my father's time on this earth was cut short too soon.

The image above is a representation of severe Alzheimer's disease - my father's brain probably looks similar to this.

He was an extremely intelligent man. He wanted to become a doctor, but his family couldn't afford it and after he left school he could choose between the army or the Post Office. He chose the latter, working at the very top of the Hillbrow tower where one day he held me tightly so I wouldn't fly away with the wind. Before he was diagnosed, he was a systems analyst and programmer for Dimension Data, writing code for some of the world's biggest communications companies.

He was the first person I would go to for a science or maths problem, and he had unending patience: he would come home from work at 7 and spend the evening trying to help me understand algebra or geometry problems. He loved children, loved animals, loved making things, loved watching children's movies like The Little Mermaid over and over with his two daughters, loved the good things in life, loved peanut butter and syrup sandwiches, loved eggs, would fight for the crust of a warm loaf of bread, grew his beard so my mom would stop biting his pointy chin, loved to make time for you, loved to share his knowledge, loved to laugh, loved to joke, loved to play, loved to love and be loved. He loved to take photographs, a hobby he picked up after school and that never left him. Until January 2013.

The following tirade really has nothing to do with anything recent that has happened to me, but blasé comments like, 'He must be getting Alzheimer's' when someone humorously forgets something really get under my skin.

I'd just like to get one thing off my chest: jokes about Alzheimer's are not funny. It is not funny to use the disease in a joke about age or memory. It is not funny to slowly feel as though you are losing your mind because you forget simple things like where you put your car keys or your wallet or the answer to a simple maths equation, only to go for tests and discover that you have memory problems that have nothing to do with age but everything to do with decay.

It is not funny to lose every talent you held dear and forget how to do the simplest of tasks. It is not funny to try take part in a conversation you don't understand. It is not funny to slowly forget those around you, those who love you, until eventually, to them, you seem to truly be a shell of yourself - the skin but not the soul.

And to your loved ones, it is not funny hearing someone ridicule the disease that has eaten away at everything that made you who you are so that every visit is a shock, and every phonecall might be the one declaring your death.

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and although this cloud will only end with rain, I'm glad my father got to meet Emma while he was still lucid.

{Image source: Wikimedia Commons}

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