Two years ago I packed up my apartment in California, said goodbye to my friends and my boyfriend, Julian, and drove out to Colorado with my daughter and a car full of our belongings.
My dad had been diagnosed with vascular dementia a few months before and my mom, who had just had a hip replacement, needed help taking care of him. The disease had come on slowly and, in his confusion, my dad had squandered their life’s savings. There was a lot to be done.
I stayed in the house for three months and then my brothers, a nephew, a niece, and a family friend took turns helping out after that.
It wasn’t easy, though, for any of us. My mom was a wreck. Who could blame her, I suppose – taking care of one husband that saw herds of elephants trampling through his bedroom, and one daughter, my sister, who had her own massive set of problems.
My mom isn’t healthy and hasn’t been all of my adult life. She eats desserts mostly and downs pots of coffee with ultra pasteurized cream each day. At this point she barely ever ate at all – maybe it was a symptom of her depression, maybe it was a symptom of one of her many other imbalances, but she seemed to enjoy the fact that her moronic doctor prescribed Ensure “to get some nutrition in her.” Sugar. Yum, right?
My mother and sister were addicted to prescription drugs – the only relief from their lives which had become so meaningless and their bodies which suffered so much pain. Both of them rarely left the house anymore. Neither of them ever let the sun touch their skin. Neither had friends. Neither had purpose. Both of them loaded up their bodies with chemicals, wheat, and sugar.
I had envisioned that I would help everyone in that house get their shit together. All of their diets needed cleaning up. Some attitude changes were certainly in order. My sister, Liz, needed a purpose.
Liz had always struggled to find her place in the world, and keep focus on her talents. She was a poet and a painter. She had a deep respect for health and food but couldn’t force herself to make the right decisions consistently.
Peggy to the rescue! I thought.
Well, kind of. She said that watching Evelyn and I eat so cleanly and look so motivated had a profound effect on her. She became Evelyn’s artistic mentor. I suppose her life was better while we were there than it had been for two years. But I couldn’t force her to stop taking drugs. I couldn’t force her to make friends, to get outside, to eat better, to exercise. All I could do was try to be a good example and I’ll tell you that wasn’t easy in that gloomy house.
I was 32 years old and all of these people around me seemed to be dying. They were miserable people. Depression and anger and irrationality abounded. I could only take small doses before I felt like I would lose it too.
My dad, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air each day.
He was cute. He had the vocabulary of a scholar and the mind of a six year old. He went for walks alone in the middle of the night barefoot in the snow. We tried to stop him by putting bells on the front door and sleeping on the couch but often we ended up tracking him down at 2 or 3AM anyway. He strolled over to safeway to get milk in the afternoons, allowing the clerks to count out his money for him. He looked for bugs in the carpet that weren’t actually there and recruited my daughter to help him. He fought wars with old army buddies in his pajamas. He bounced Evelyn on his knee and told her to pick up after herself and mind her manners. He shuffled through old papers as if they were still important. He fixed Evelyn’s broken toys. And every time Julian or one of my brothers came to visit from out of state or overseas we’d play poker, slowly, but we’d play.
But saving him wasn’t an option. Trying to reverse his disease at this point would have been impossible. His brain had atrophied substantially, his hormones were out of whack, his digestion impaired, and he was developing what is often referred to as Diabetes of the Brain or Alzheimer’s disease. On top of that he was my mom’s husband. Even though she wasn’t fit to take care of herself, he was hers to take care of. I had no control in that house. I couldn’t come in and clean up their lives as I had so desperately hoped.
When I changed my diet 7 years ago and witnessed such massive transformations in myself, I wanted to save my loved ones too. I tried to force feed my mom with all this traditional wisdom mumbo jumbo but she was adamantly against the idea that she had ever done anything wrong. My sister was all for it but didn’t have the discipline. My dad thought it was fine for me but he didn’t need it.
Some people want help and some don’t.
We aren’t going to save the world with our knowledge of nutrition and disease. Addiction and belief are powerful forces. We can help ourselves and others who ask for it and we can accept things the way they are. That’s all.
Those three months were challenging. If I didn’t have a 4 year old kid to raise, if I had felt a little more detached from the reality of their problems, if I hadn’t suddenly relocated and left my life in California, if my mom weren’t depressed, angry, and controlling, if my mom and sister weren’t high all the time, it would have been easier.
But none of that matters now. My dad and sister are dead and those months are just about as precious to me as any time I ever spent with them.
It’s better that he’s gone anyway. His last few months were tough. His hip gave out and gout attacked his feet. He couldn’t walk anymore without falling and doing himself some real harm. He couldn’t hear well. He didn’t know who any of us were. Somehow he was content anyway, unlike many who decline in this way. He was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, always basically happy with his lot in life. But, still, what kind of life is that?
Thursday afternoon he unexpectedly died, at age 78. He had stopped eating and there wasn’t much they could do to save him. I sat with his yellowing, motionless body for hours. I think I could have stayed there for days. He looked so calm and serious, just like I remembered him.
My dad, who I traveled all over Mexico and Central America with, who taught me math, who taught me to ski and to rock climb and to scuba dive, who gave me my cold and terse personality, is gone. Ah fuck man. My dad was bad ass. He just didn’t know that TV dinners, ice cream, and soda would rot his brain. And, frankly, he didn’t care.
He was an engineer. He read and did body resistance exercise everyday of his life up until he couldn’t anymore. He studied and solved problems. He watched very little TV. He did yard work and fixed things. He walked a lot.
Aren’t those the things which mainstream experts say will prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Well, it’s all bullshit.
Without nutrition you haven’t got a chance in this world.