What I Learned in 2017
I remember when I first learned my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 10 years ago. It hit me hard. Like many people when you hear that anyone you love has a fatal disease, it’s difficult to process. I become worried, scared, nervous and in the end felt terribly helpless. I experienced all of those things all at once. I tried to learn as much as I could about this disease and what to expect in the months and years to come. But the truth is any amount of Googling on the internet can’t prepare you for the hardest part of all. It’s what I really wanted that no amount of information or comfort from others could give me. Simply, more time.
I saw my dad over the last 10 years become someone else. Someone that was hard to recognize from the father figure who raised me as a young boy. He taught me how to read my favorite book of all time, Harold And The Purple Crayon. He played catch with me in the backyard every single time I asked no matter how late it was or what a long day he had. He showed me the completely wrong way to grill a steak unless you like it completely fried to a burnt crisp, He taught me how to treat people with fairness and kindness, but to always stand up for myself if I wasn’t treated back in the same exact way.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some extraordinary people in my life, but my dad was the most intelligent man I’ve ever known. He was a successful business man filled with pride, but my dad wasn’t perfect. He had many flaws like all of us do. Things that make us human. He was a little crazy with the thermostat keeping it as cold as possible…He had an annoying habit of tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel when he drove way below the speed limit as cars passed us by honking madly…He listened to dramatic Opera music at piercingly loud levels…He without fail woke up at 1am every night to sneak into the kitchen and have chocolate chip cookies. He was beautifully stoic and commanding in all his imperfections. He had piercing blue eyes. Those eyes could cut you down with one simple look. That look…that look scared me to death as a teenager, it completely stopped me in my tracks. But, that look also conveyed a sense of kindness many times over and a generosity that I’ve never known before or since.
All of these memories that he lost to the disease…all of those experiences he lost didn’t mean that I lost any of them. It made me remember him more vividly and loved him with more courage and heart. It didn’t mean I didn’t love him any less as the years went on and his mind faded away. Just the opposite. I loved him more. As he became closed off from the world and he began to lose his ability to speak and move…I felt something stronger build throughout the last 10 years within myself. The strength of who my dad was and what he meant to me. That gave me the courage to find an inner strength and love him more. It also made my family stronger, more communicative and we shared a commonality with many stories that honored his memory.
My dad and I shared many talks throughout the years before his disease. Some were combative and some talks became a time of learning, understanding and compassion for both us. We were both so different and so unwaveringly similar. But, in the end, he supported me and believed in me more than anyone else. And I believed in him. He shared with me his life lessons. How to always be there for someone else. How to never give up even in the toughest of times. How to persevere. But, also how to give up control of things you weren’t meant to control.
My father, Harold F. Elkin passed away at 11:35pm last night. He was a man I admired and loved for who he was in all his beautiful imperfections. He taught me one other thing that I’ll always keep with me. How to be a great dad. And for that I’m forever grateful. Peace and love.