|U.S. Army - Alaska|
I am running the New York City Marathon in memory and to honor my Dad.
He passed away in January from Alzheimer’s just a month shy of 84 years old.
His diagnosis took a long time to be labeled, but there were signs. We, my family and I, were confused by his behavior. He had a way of hiding the fact that he wasn’t well. Memory loss wasn’t the only issue; there were subtle changes to his personality, which, in hindsight should have alerted us to ask more questions. But not being familiar with dementia and Alzheimer’s we weren’t aware of all the possibilities.
My Dad was in the U.S. Army stationed in Alaska during the Korean War. He was a Firefighter and Lieutenant of the New York Fire Department for 30 years.
Coming from a broken family he had a rough start to the beginning of his life. He seldom spoke about his parents to my siblings and me, but the disease opened a window that allowed him to share his anger and disappointment with his parents’ behavior, lack of love and lack of parenting skills. I remember sitting in his yard a few summers back, just the two of us, and he told me stories of living in poverty and how he was separated from his siblings and lived with different aunts and uncles.
|1960-61 – My Dad is the third from the left|
My Dad was on his high school basketball team that played in the local finals at Madison Square Garden. They won! While the Alzheimer's progressed, many nights we would look at his high school basketball team photo from Newtown High School in Corona, NY, 1948. The photo was black and white and it was taken outside of the school. He would remember some of his teammate's names. I was thankful as all of his teammates had signed their names in pencil on the back of the photo behind where they stood. This allowed me to assist him in remembering names which made him smile. There was a light or a comfort in his eyes when he reminisced about certain times of his past.
We would look together at both sides of the photo (their faces on one side and their names on the other). It was a traditional team photo, basketball uniforms with numbers on their singlets and shorts, the tall guys in the back, and the shorter ones in the front and the coach on the left or right. He'd talk about his teammates and their shooting, blocking, basketball skills and he’d wonder where they are now and then he would ask, “You remember these guys, right?"
I would gently say, "No Dad, I am a little younger than all of you." He accepted that.
Once, twice, three times I tried to explain time. Then I learned to speak in generalizations. Have you ever tried to explain time? Think about it… time.
My Dad had a great sense of humor: dry wit, sarcasm and often with comments which should have been stage whispers, but weren’t. He enjoyed laughing, music, old movies, good food, and being with his family. During his battle with Alzheimer’s his humor and sarcasm remained. Laughter is good for the soul.
This will be my 8th New York City Marathon. In the past, my Dad would come out on the course as a spectator. For several years, he would park his car near the firehouse where he worked in the 1970s (Engine 238 at the turn of Greenpoint Ave and McGuinness Blvd). It is just before the Pulaski Bridge, the halfway mark. He'd bring a folding beach chair (with white and blue webbing) and he'd set up his chair on the island on McGuinness Boulevard at the approach to the bridge. I remember the last time I saw him there it was probably 2009 or 2010. He had been standing and was moving towards the chair to sit. He was moving slowly, gingerly, and he reached for the arm of the chair behind him. I saw him before he saw me.
When he saw me, he stood up and we exchanged a few caring interested phrases..."thanks for coming"…"How do you feel?"…“Great weather”…“you’re looking strong”…”you’re not too cold?”
I asked, “Were you just talking to a runner.” "Yes...cheering for them. It’s amazing to watch all these people! ALL these people!” He seemed astonished at the number of runners. I smiled and hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek and said with a smile, "I better go; I’ve got a race to finish". He smiled and hugged me back. I ran up the Pulaski Bridge. I didn’t know that would be the last time he’d participate in the marathon.
The next time I ran the marathon I felt the loss of him not being there.
Each of our training runs these last few weeks, when we approached that intersection I pictured that moment in my mind: my Dad wearing his dark blue jacket, grey plaid driving cap and sun glasses as he was about to sit down in the beach chair on the island on McGuinness Boulevard.