I sat across the room from my father on Thanksgiving night. He looked at me pointedly. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“I’m Mary,” I answered.
“Mary… ” he prompted.
“Mary McLaughlin,” I said, wondering if he would recognize that my last name was the same as his.
“Mary McLaughlin,” he repeated slowly. He listened to the syllables as they floated in the air. Then he shook his head. No, it didn’t ring a bell.
My father, a few months shy of his 91st birthday, has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Though he still has good days, he has forgotten most of the things that just a few years ago he would have listed as evidence of a life well-lived — his three college degrees; his two successful careers; his five grown children; his 57-year-and-counting marriage to my mother. They — we — are all shadows now. Glimpses. Points of information that he finds fascinating and puzzling, but that evaporate almost as soon as they are spoken to him.
It’s all lost.
I’ve played that Thanksgiving night conversation through in my head a hundred times since it happened and it stings every time I do. And then, with each replay, I continue through to the second part of our conversation until I get to the part that salves the sting.