Her elderly father sits in a wheelchair in front of a television. It’s an old console TV. The kind every American family had back in the early 80s. A big bulbous screen. An archaic remote that looks like a gadget from a James Bond movie and probably interferes with air traffic. He doesn’t move a muscle.
She is mid-fifties. Pretty. She sits on the sofa next to him. She talks to him. He can hear her, but he doesn’t say much in return. He grunts occasionally.
“He’s in there somewhere,” she says. “I know it. Every now and then he recognizes me.”
But not often enough. She touches his hand and says, “Daddy, are you ready for lunch?”
He says nothing.
He has Alzheimer’s. He has good days and bad days. She lives with him. And the way it usually works for her is like this:
—When he has a good day, so does she.
—When he has a bad one, her day stinks.
“It’s just part of the deal,” she says. “When you’re a caregiver, you spend every waking moment in his world, wiping his face, brushing his teeth, I bathe him, too. That took some getting used to.”
But this column isn’t about Alzheimer’s. Not really. It’s about the big Douglas fir in the corner.
This Christmas, she sprung for a real tree instead of a phony one. It sits beside his television, covered in lights, ornaments, and golden garland.
They just put it up a few days ago. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. It all started one morning at breakfast when her father said, “Hey, Teresa.”
And he said it just like that. No big deal. Except that it is a big deal.
“I knew it was going to be one of his good days,” she says. “I had to hurry.”
So she called her neighbor to help. They bought a tree. They brought the thing into the living room. It was so big that it touched the ceiling and they had to trim it.
The old man saw the tree and his mood immediately shifted. He started shouting, “HEY! I’m not paying for that expensive tree, you good-for-nothing #&$@! Get that outta my house! I’m not paying! HELP!”
“Daddy,” said his daughter. “Calm down, its just a Christmas tree.”
He winked at her. “Aw, I was only kidding.” Then he laughed so hard his false teeth fell out and he almost choked.
“I thought he was having an actual episode,” she tells me. “But he was just being the jokester he always was.”
The tree is no cheapy. It’s lush and green. It‘s fragrant. When the old man first saw it in its final position, over in the corner, before the decorations, his face broke wide open.
“He cried,” she says. “But Daddy cries a lot these days. He cries at infomercials on the Home Shopping Network about air-fryers.”
But this was different. She wheeled the old man to his tree. She let him touch it. Smell it. When he tried to eat it, she had to threaten him to quit fooling around.
They listened to old records. His music. Nat, Bing, Frank, Perry, Elvis.
“Music brings him out of his shell,” she says. “He was singing right along. I got my phone out and recorded some of him singing, wanna see?”
She plays a cellphone video. The old man is wearing a hat with elf ears and jingle bells. He smiles at the camera and mumbles along to Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song.”
It’s hard to understand his lyrics, his slurred words come out sounding more like:
“Chesh-ruts woasting on an open fryer,
“Jack frost slipping on your toes…
“Laah dah dee… HEY! TURN IT UP LOUDER!
“I CAN’T HEAR! I’M HUNGRY!
So they decorated the tree. They laughed. They talked about her mother. That day, he was giving her more than one-word grunts. He was saying full sentences. They were conversing like old times.
They spoke about happy days when the family used to go on summer vacations. About Disney World, the Grand Canyon. About how they ate hotdogs cooked over a campfire in Yellowstone National Park when she was ten years old.
“He was always my hero,” she says. “I know that’s probably a little corny for your story, but it’s true.”
When they finished decorating, she was about to place the topper on the tree and call it quits for the day. But before she could, her father made a gentle suggestion:
“HEY! LEMME DO IT, DAMMIT!”
So she let him. She helped him out of his wheelchair. She stood behind him, holding him for support. She helped him use a mechanical claw grabber to place the figurine atop the tree.
When it was in place, he said the most poignant words a daughter could ever wish to hear during the Christmas season from her father: “Take me to the bathroom before I have an accident in my pants.”
Before bed, she washed his face and helped him change into pajamas. And she wheeled her father into the den to get one last view of the tree before bedtime.
He looked at it for nearly forty minutes. Neither of them said anything.
He finally told her, “That looks pretty good.”
“Yeah, it does, Daddy.”
Then, she tells me the old man placed a hand on her face and said, “What would I do without you? You’re my hero, Teresa.”
Yes, indeed. It’s quite a tree.
Karen Greatrix - December 8, 2019 7:38 am
What a blessing.
Bunny Rittenour - December 8, 2019 8:26 am
They had a spectacular day!
God bless you Teresa!
Sharon Lawson - December 8, 2019 10:58 am
Thank you for this story and for making the characters so loveable.
Jim Lyle - December 8, 2019 11:07 am
Thanks for this. My wife has Alzheimers and I know this is what I have to look fwd to. She has good days and bad. She still recognizes me ,but has lapses about who i am. we are Blessed.
Jim Lyle - December 8, 2019 11:08 am
Thanks for Sharing. My wife is not that far along, but I can see it coming.
Karen Goss - December 8, 2019 11:08 am
Oh, how I wish I could have been a Teresa. My dad died too young and with no notice at all. What a a blessing she is to him. I know he is a blessing to her as well. Merry Christmas to Teresa and her dad!
Elizabeth - December 8, 2019 11:34 am
Sandra - December 8, 2019 11:38 am
May God bless the caregivers like Teresa among us–as well as those who need care.
Cheri - December 8, 2019 11:43 am
What a beautiful story. I can totally relate❤️
Merry Christmas Sean!
Jill B - December 8, 2019 12:24 pm
As we age longer, Alzheimer’s will be one of our biggest threats- emotionally, physically, and economically. God bless caregivers like Teresa. God bless those who contribute for research to end this devastating disease.
Annan - December 8, 2019 12:25 pm
The Teresa’s of this world are who we should all want to be when we grow up.
Gerald Hamilton - December 8, 2019 12:55 pm
We all have heroes, but care takers are special, thanks for sharing Sean!
Jo Ann - December 8, 2019 1:04 pm
Thank you, Sean, for telling the story of this wonderful daughter. What a blessing for her dad, & rewarding for her, too. Merry Christmas, Teresa.
Gary - December 8, 2019 1:33 pm
That’s a GOODEN !
Bill - December 8, 2019 1:40 pm
Sean, You do a great service to us all when you write about Alzheimers caregivers. There are far more caregivers than most folks realize, and our stories are all familiar. The care is 24/7 and there are some good times and more and more bad times. I was a caregiver for my sweet wife for years until it finally overwhelmed me, and she had to go to a memory care facility. May God bless Teresa and all the caregivers, and help the researchers find an effective treatment to slow the progression, and a permanent cure for this horrible disease.
Janice - December 8, 2019 1:58 pm
Oh my! No matter how bad it gets, I pray that she’ll always remember those words from that most wonderful day.
Tammy - December 8, 2019 2:06 pm
Yet again, Sean, you bring real life to life in your writings. Thanks for sharing this powerful and sweet piece. Always a blessing to wake up to your stories. God’s blessings to all the Teresas and to the ones they care for day in and out. It’s a love story like no other. And God’s blessings to you Sean.
Alan Wildes - December 8, 2019 2:17 pm
You got me again. You can’t keep holding the punch line until the end like that. I read these posts in public sometimes and it’s not a pretty sight for a 50 year old man to have to suck in air like he’s drowning to keep the tears from flowing like a fire hydrant and have people come over to me and ask me if I am having a seizure or something.
You are a gifted storyteller my friend.
Susan Gregory - December 8, 2019 2:52 pm
Winner! Luv this!
Connie Havard Ryland - December 8, 2019 3:08 pm
We just lost our mom to Alzheimer’s. It’s a horrible thing. She suffered a long time, but when she had a good day, it was wonderful. Bad days left us all in tears. My heart goes out to all the heroes who are the caregivers everywhere. They certainly have a crown waiting. Love and hugs.
Lita - December 8, 2019 3:16 pm
Love to Teresa and her father.
Thank you, Sean.
Best wishes to you and yours.
Roz Heiko - December 8, 2019 3:26 pm
Thank you for your gift of the true and the heart. 🌹
Steve - December 8, 2019 3:30 pm
My mom has Alzheimers. My dad commented about it earlier. It stole her from me. It stole her from all of us.
Laurie - December 8, 2019 3:39 pm
I wait every morning to get up and read your posts. They are so touching, human, sweet and funny, exactly what this world needs more of! Thanks you and keep ’em coming!!
Garnet Faulkner - December 8, 2019 3:40 pm
I sure do miss my Daddy.
Jubilate - December 8, 2019 3:55 pm
This is love. Thank you, Sean.
Dawn Bratcher - December 8, 2019 4:08 pm
May the Lord bless her and her father with more lucid moments! And, please give her divine strength as she continues in her loving care. ❤
Edna Barron - December 8, 2019 4:39 pm
May Teresa and her dad be blessed. She is definitely an angel. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Linda Moon - December 8, 2019 4:48 pm
Yes indeed, you wrote quite a story, as you always do. I often ask my oldest grandson those same words the old man said to Teresa: “What would I do without you?” Alzheimer’s took away two of my heroes: Aunt Polly and My Mother. No story that reminds me of daddys and grandsons and mothers and aunts could possibly be too corny, especially with the Grand Canyon happy days thrown in!!
Shelton A. - December 8, 2019 4:49 pm
My mom had dementia and, eventually, it killed her. Teresa is lucky and very blessed…there were no days like that for me. God bless and watch over all caregivers. They work so hard with little help usually.
Mary Lou - December 8, 2019 5:15 pm
Please, please,please, just shoot me
Jeanne Butler - December 8, 2019 5:34 pm
OMG so sad. Alzheimer’s is the worst. I pray every day I dont end up like that. God bless all who have it and their caregivers. Love you Sean.
Stephanie Godke - December 8, 2019 7:57 pm
I just lost an Aunt to Louis Body Dementia and you pray for days like that.
Jenny Young - December 8, 2019 8:15 pm
Oh the aches & joy of loving someone…..& being loved by someone.
Pete marovich - December 8, 2019 9:11 pm
My mother went thru Alzheimer’s. I pray for cure so family’s will not have to go thru this ordeal.
Sheila - December 8, 2019 10:05 pm
Thanks for sharing Sean. It hits close to home with me. My mom has Alzheimer’s and I am her caregiver. Today is a bad day! Your story reminds me that tomorrow could be a good day so hang in there. Thank you! Your writing is valued more than you can imagine. Never stop please. Your friend, Sheila
Ann Marie Bouchet - December 8, 2019 10:15 pm
Another incredible column, that makes me cry. You are awesome, Sean.
Bkr - December 8, 2019 11:35 pm
Every day. Good-no,GREAT column. This one made to full out cry as my dad passed away in 2016 “failure to thrive”. Aka dementia after my mother died. He was my hero. Thank you for using your talents. You really are something else. And by that I mean Really good.
Charlie Key - December 9, 2019 12:11 am
You nailed it.
Kathy - December 9, 2019 1:32 am
Awww, brought tears to my eyes, Sean. ❤️
Joni - December 9, 2019 2:25 am
Great column as usual
Dru Brown - December 9, 2019 2:54 am
You are a blessing.
Jan Bruck - December 9, 2019 7:06 am
My how that touched my heart, Sean! My sweet husband turned into a belligerent man when he suffered with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s until he died three years ago. I was afraid the last few years would haunt me for long after he died. However, the week before he died my two daughters came to visit him. When we surrounded his bed I started singing the many hymns I knew he had loved throughout our life together, and our two daughters harmonized with me, one alto, the other tenor. He used to have an amazing bass voice that he used in our church for years, and I hadn’t heard him sing since he had been sick. He was in a lot of pain that day, but he turned to us and started “groaning” in tune to the songs we were singing. That went on for 45 minutes to an hour. It was a blessing God gave us when he was on his deathbed that I never would have expected based on his AD behavior. Every story is different. I am sure that Teresa will cherish those words from her father as I cherish my husband’s “groaning” the songs.
wayne raines - December 9, 2019 6:20 pm
BOY, THAT’S A GOOD ONE.
lfry1220 - December 10, 2019 1:54 am
Sean Dietrich — you are the BEST! You are special.
Naomi Smith - December 21, 2019 1:03 pm
After caring for 2 elderly parents and now in the heat of caring for my husband’s mother, that one evokes a lot of memories, good, bad, and precious. It is a pretty thankless job, but occasionally a thought comes through that is the best ‘thank you’, a person could have!
Thank You, Sean, for reminding me what a thank you looks like. Have a Blessed Christmas Season!