Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fishing With My Dad

So many of you have responded to my request for prayers for my father who has advanced Alzheimer’s (currently in a temporary place of safety, mostly confused, sometimes distraught, awaiting long term care placement) I wanted to tell you a little about him, so that when you offer prayers or thoughts for Donald House, you will have some sense of the man. I’ve been sitting with what story to tell, and this is the one that comes to mind, so I will trust that.

When I was growing up my family went on camping vacations. Dad hadn’t ever camped as a child but he was eager and handy and, having grown up on a farm, very at home being close to the earth. He built cupboards and rigged up a variety of tarps for a camp kitchen, chopped endless piles of wood, and led my brother and I in spear-making expeditions and spear-throwing contests on the beach. I think he had as much fun as we did. He’d had a truly difficult childhood- filled with poverty and physical abuse. I sometimes think any real child-like fun he had happened when we were children.

What I am remembering right now is the two of us going fishing on those camping trips.

My Dad and I were rarely alone. And, to tell the truth, I wasn’t much into fishing. I saw the mandatory daytime family fishing expeditions as basically a chance to work on my tan and read. But for some reason, I often went out fishing alone with my father at dusk – 7 pm to be exact- when we were camping. He maintained that seven was when the wind went down (and it often did) and the fish and the mosquitoes would both be biting.

After the supper dishes were done, he’d say, “Let’s go Annie!” (My middle birth name is Anne- he was the only person who every called me this.)

We'd take our heavy, old, square-backed freighter canoe with a small trolling motor on the back and head out into the lake. Then we'd find a spot- usually a small bay- drop anchor and, covering ourselves with insect repellent, sit until the sun went down with our lines in the water. I don’t remember us ever catching anything. But I do remember how. . . . comfortable it was, sitting on the lake in silence with my father. Once in awhile the silence would be broken by the sound of loons calling to each other across the water- a strangely mournful cry that always makes my chest ache.

How my father loved being out on the water surrounded by the dense bush of the north, watching the clouds become streaked with changing color as the sun went down and the first stars appeared in the dark blue sky. You could feel the warmth leaving the air as the sun slid beneath the horizon.

Once, sitting quietly, we heard a strange sound- like the breath of an omnipresent mother whispering, “SSSSHHHH. . . .” I looked at my Dad bewildered, and for a moment he too looked confused. Then, suddenly he reeled in his line and told me to do the same.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Rain,” he said.

And sure enough, as I looked toward the east I could see a dark grey thunderhead coming across the tree tops in the distance, bringing with it a curtain of water. We pulled up the anchor and headed for shore trying to outrun the storm. I remember watching it pursuing us, wind churning the waves and rain racing across the lake behind us. I remember Dad laughing and shouting to me, “We’re not going to make it!” And sure enough, the rain caught up with us before we pulled the canoe up onto the beach, soaked and laughing at our own smallness in the face of something as ordinary as a summer storm.

I don’t know why this is the story that comes to mind now. Perhaps it is because my father is experiencing what is called "sundowning"- a state of aggitation that often comes upon those with advanced Alzheimer's at sunset. As I pray for him to know he is loved, to feel safe and calm and a sense of peace, I hold this image- of the two of us sitting in the canoe at dusk fishing- in the hopes that the deep calm and beauty of those times may reach him now.

Thank you all for your prayers- I am deeply touched by both your caring and by the stories of many who have been or are currently going through this or similar things with aging loved ones. It is of course heart-breaking to watch someone we love struggle and suffer so, to lose them a little bit at a time as shared memories disintegrate. But it is hard because we have been blessed to know them, to love and be loved. I am doubly blessed- to have a father I love, who loves me, and to have a community of support that adds their prayers to mine. And for this, I am grateful.


  1. I love you Oriah and I hold you,
    your father and mother deeply
    in my heart.
    You are not alone.

  2. Oriah,

    What. a lovely story, thank you for sharing. Isn't it strange how we remember those "tiny" things all of a sudden? And how much they mean now, when once they were just something normal, right now you treasure it for the precious moment it then was. My parents both died in 2009, two days after my father passed, my mother died, too. When my father was in hospital he couldn't talk anymore, but he was still alert and understood what I said. I remembered the precious times we shared when he brought me a teddy bear when he visited me at his lunch break at my work place when he knew that I didn't feel well. At the hospital I brought this very same teddybear back to him as he wasn't feeling well. Tears were streaming down his face and his eyes showed me gratitude and love.
    Talk to your Dad, tell him your story on the lake when you two went fishing, even if he might not catch on to everything you say, maybe the joy in your words and the love you share will take some of his agitation away. Just a thought.
    I'm with you in my heart and in my prayers for both of your parents and also for you.

    Much Love & a big Hug,

  3. Today is my mother's birthday. She died suddenly at 74. I always thought that we would be old ladies together and have felt cheated for 15 years. Knowing your story, feeling your anguish, I wonder if she (and I) were blessed? P.S. She loved to fish. The last time we talked it was about going fishing!

  4. Oriah, my prayers are with you and your family.

  5. All blessings still be with you and I'm sending some peace for you all from the gentle Somerset countryside which is currently being softly caressed by kind rays of springtime sunshine.xx

  6. Dear Oriah...What a lovely story about you and your Dad. Hold it close to your heart. You are in my thoughts and prayers. kim

  7. I'm sorry to hear about your father. I'll keep you and your family in my prayers as we struggle the same struggles with my grandmother.

  8. What a beautiful memory! Your Dad sounds like a wonderful, caring person who managed to put his own past behind him and pour his love into his own family. It sounds as though you learnt to love primal nature from him and that the two of you will always share this deep connection, no matter what. I think Sabine's suggestion that you share this memory with him (even over and over again, each time you are with him), could well be the key to reaching him through all of his confusion and agitation.

    My heart goes out to you and your precious family Oriah, as together, you find ways to process and deal with all of this painful, emotional suffering.

    With loving hugs,

    Des xoxo

  9. Many hugs. Again, I know what you are going through. The pain seems unbearable at the time but love will remain and it will sustain. Take breaks and take care of yourself Oriah.