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. There’s a fancy flat screen sitting on top of the old television, blaring a daytime talk show. He doesn’t move a muscle.
It’s been a very hard year.
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. She bought the tree because this year has been a miserable one. 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 this 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 the tree resting 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, he knew all the words. I got my phone out and recorded some of him singing, wanna see?”
She sent me 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.”
On the video, 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. He was giving her more than one-word grunts. He was saying full sentences. They were conversing like old times. They were father and daughter again. No longer caregiver and at-home patient.
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!”
So she let him. She helped him out of his wheelchair. She stood behind him, holding him around the waist 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.” Then they laughed until their faces turned flush. The jokester returns.
Before bed, she washed him 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 everything, Teresa.”
Yes, indeed. It’s quite a tree.
teresasnipesmecom - December 14, 2020 6:51 am
Teresa is a hero for caring for her father in such a loving, selfless way. Bless her precious heart!
Trey - December 14, 2020 6:52 am
Beautiful story. Very real. Love wins.
Leslie in NC - December 14, 2020 11:26 am
Bless Teresa and her dad. And thank goodness for those good days they can still have together.
stephenpe - December 14, 2020 11:35 am
Good one today, Sean. I am sort of doing that now. My neighbor is in her last days and Ive been her caretaker awhile now. I had been going to the hospital each day but got exposed to covid. Im taking the test today so I can clear to go back and see her. I sit by her bed and we are back in her living room at home with her telling me the things I need to do for her. Go to the Dollar General for her mouthwash and pads and chocolate milk. Get her some cash from the Circle K. Take out the trash. Her name is Shirley and for 80 yrs she did it her way. Now its all different and she is struggling. They say she is asking for me all day at the hospital. Im praying I can get back in this morning with a negative test.
joan moore - December 14, 2020 11:48 am
Sean, it’s one of the best. I would give you a Nobel prize for a blog if I was in charge, Merry Christmas!
Jennifer Scorza - December 14, 2020 12:14 pm
I may have to unsubscribe if your stories keep making me cry every day… ;). Keep them coming—they are a breath of fresh air! And Therese—what a beautiful story and what a blessing you are to your dad.
MR - December 14, 2020 12:14 pm
Taking care of a parent is no easy task, for sure.
topdock - December 14, 2020 12:38 pm
Blessed be those who comfort the elderly for they will have a special place in Heavan!
Lynn Schroeder - December 14, 2020 1:13 pm
I’m crying. Different story but very close w/my own Dad. He left us not quite 2 years ago. He was the best Dad in the world. Goodness…I miss him terribly! Thank you for writing this…I’m a crying mess right now, but loved reading it all the same!
Anne - December 14, 2020 1:31 pm
Love this, it brought a tear to my eye. Thank you 😊
Kate - December 14, 2020 1:43 pm
Teresa is the hero, so many people who are kind, compassionate care givers are not recognized as the brave and courageous souls that they are. My aunt is 88, my uncle 93. He has had Alzheimer’s for the last 4 years and she takes care of him. She refuses to put him somewhere in memory care. They were married January 3, 1954. They have no children and she is the last of her family of 14 siblings. My aunt is amazing and determined and stubborn and has a great sense of humor. My husband and I sold our house in July and moved 500 miles to be next door to them ….to help give her some support. She is so happy that someone is near she can call upon. It doesn’t change her day to day but it helps her smile more often. So thankful for Teresa’s father that he has her in his life. Thank you Sean for reminding us that there are always angels near by helping others and one of those angels is named Teresa.
Pat - December 14, 2020 1:43 pm
Okay I’m crying early, your words are so visual… you take your readers into your soul…a gift for sure from GOD…. Merry Christmas!
Heidi - December 14, 2020 1:45 pm
Gods blessings to all the loving caregivers. I wish many good days for you all.❤️
Patricia Harris - December 14, 2020 1:53 pm
My husbands story in a nutshell he died of Alzheimer’s disease nearly two years ago. The flashbacks to normalcy come for sure. Those are the memories I niw hold most dear.
Steve Scott - December 14, 2020 1:57 pm
What a wonderful Christmas story. As a musician, I have seen the power of music on Alheimer’s patients. I am attaching a video that you have probably seen but wanted you to see it because it is quite remarkable. Thanks for being such a good writer. I am glad I finally got to meet you and Jamie too. https://youtu.be/EgNLLelQYwI If you are unable to open it, go to You Tube and type in “Henry Alzheimers Music.”
Sandi. - December 14, 2020 2:01 pm
God bless Teresa abundantly for all she does. She is her Daddy’s angel. Merry Christmas to them both.
Jan - December 14, 2020 2:09 pm
A beautiful story. God bless Teresa and her Dad. God bless you, Sean, for telling their story.
Bob Brenner - December 14, 2020 2:13 pm
Sean you do tell a beautiful and touching story. God bless all the caregivers for their families. Especially Teresa, glad for your good day Teresa ❤️ 🎄
Betty F. - December 14, 2020 2:27 pm
So hard to know what to do in these situations- each has a different story. Sometimes the person becomes too much to handle- violent or constant uncontrollable wandering. The caretaker has to balance the person’s safety, their own safety and more. Thank goodness Teresa has a gentle Dad. She is amazing- not sure I could handle it in any case. And thanks for another heart-breaker story.
Peg Begley - December 14, 2020 2:48 pm
My mother died of early onset Alzheimer at only 67. She had been in a nursing home since she was 59 years old. She had been a RN and sang in churches and Mobile Opera Groups. Her last years she could make a decipherable word, but she could sing full choruses. Her rendition of Amazing Grace would make everyone stop, often with tears glistening, then she scoot off talking in her sweet gibberish. Her last days were in a nursing home in Milton, FL. Sweet memories. My heart goes out to Teresa for being her father’s caregiver, blessings to her, and all of your readers.
Paul Alge - December 14, 2020 3:00 pm
Dam it Sean I get tired of your tear jerkers but that one was worth a snotty nose. Happy Holidays
Helen De Prima - December 14, 2020 3:35 pm
Thank you, Sean, for all of us who have been there.
elizabethroosje - December 14, 2020 4:01 pm
Ahhh, man. Two-Kleenex story!!! Sniff, tears… yes, God bless everyone who is in this situation and may they have moments that encouragement them! (My Uncle has it now, such a quiet kind man…) God bless you Sean!
Coleman Krusmark - December 14, 2020 4:19 pm
This one hits home. My 85 year old Daddy lives with my family. It is hard and yet such a blessing. Thank you for this one. Merry Christmas.
Jim Thomssen - December 14, 2020 6:18 pm
OK – crying at the table in front of the laptop. Sean. I lost both my parents a while ago. They went “Quick” 10 years apart. Some folks said it was a good thing. I still miss them. You have a way of bringing the memories back. Thanks.
Linda Moon - December 14, 2020 6:30 pm
I needed thy TLC today. I prefer giving it instead of needing it. I also prefer watching my old bulbous console TV to the flat, stark new-fangled one. TLC came to me serendipitously from your six words, Columnist, that I very often say to someone I know and love: “What would I do without you?” And, suddenly, your story wasn’t just about a Christmas Tree. It was quite a story, indeed.
Maria Vastianou Grigoriadi - December 14, 2020 6:31 pm
Sean, I love reading your stories every day, I only found you this spring, and have read back to November last year – and… isn’t this a story you shared last December too? Just askin.
Maria in Chios island (right across the sea from Izmir Turkey), Greece
AlaRedClayGirl - December 14, 2020 6:48 pm
While all diseases are horrible, Alzheimer’s is especially cruel. Oftentimes when you are elderly, all you may have is your memories, but not even that with this disease. And for the family, well, they “lose” you before you even die. It is so very sad. You learn to appreciate those rare lucid moments and try to find humor as much as possible. Thanks for a special story.
Jenny Young - December 14, 2020 6:55 pm
Life is so hard…love hurts….but so beautiful.
Chasity Davis Ritter. Freddie’s daughter - December 14, 2020 6:58 pm
Ah man Sean. These damn allergies are gonna kill me yet. It must be the live tree you wrote about making them act up. Nope I just miss my dad is all. I miss him a whole bunch.
sharon suleski - December 14, 2020 7:11 pm
Im a retired nurse now music brings even the confused sad angry elderly a few seconds of pleasure especially You Are My Sunshine everyone remembers that song So when we pity ourselves because we are safe at home have to wear masks distancing those simple inconveniences We need to practice gratitude remember the caregivers that are caring for an Alzheimer’s loved one the family who cant be with their loved ones in ICU with the virus the health workers who are worn out physically and mentally people who may be evicted from their home and on and on Bless them all My world now is caring for my 96 year old mother but she is remarkable physically and mentally she is my immediate family for all holidays and day to day living but I know she is safest at my house now there is a time for every season and this will to pass
Bill - December 14, 2020 8:41 pm
Yeah, what we do without out other people. Don’t take them for granted. Remember, some day they won’t be there. Merry Christmas, not only today, but, every day..
Suzanne Moore - December 14, 2020 9:04 pm
Having been through Atzheimer’s with our dad, this story is especially poignant. Thanks for sharing it, Sean. God bless Theresa.
Jomi Murphy - December 14, 2020 9:15 pm
As an adult daughter of a Mother and Father that had Alzheimer’s, this story made me so happy for Teresa and made me break into the ugly cry!
Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder - December 14, 2020 11:40 pm
Theresa is a loving and caring daughter with a BIG heart!
Such memories are precious for ending a life… for holding on to. They’re just another ‘topper’ on the tree of life; one of many different ones.
Blessings to all involved!
Jenny Kunst - December 15, 2020 3:16 pm
I was a caretaker for my mom. This is your Best. Story. Ever.
MyPlace - December 15, 2020 5:57 pm
This is every caregiver’s dream… Thank you Sean!
Deena - January 2, 2021 12:24 am
Such a beautiful story. This really touched my heart. So many of your writings do…. so happy for the special gift of her father that Teresa received. ❤️