Gifts for Dad ➔

My father has Alzheimer’s. He’s in the middle stage of the disease. He still recognizes his wife and all six of his adult children. He has moments of complete clarity where he will hear a joke and immediately laugh at the punchline. He will see my mom in pain and go to offer her comfort.

But he has moments of profound lapses in memory too. He can no longer make his favorite breakfast of oatmeal that he’s prepared for himself for the last 30 years because he simply can’t recall how to make it. My mom will ask him for paper towels, and he will come back confused with a bucket of cleaning supplies that doesn’t contain any paper towels.

As of late, Dad has lost his ability to communicate.

My siblings and I recently came to the awful realization that we will never be able to have a conversation with our father again.

When he wants to add to a discussion, the light turns on behind his eyes, and you can see the thoughts come as he so desperately tries to convey them into words. But the words don’t come. They can’t come. His brain won’t allow them. But despite the overwhelming frustration of his suppressed speech, he will often shrug it off, shake his head, and even give us a little smile.

RELATED: You Can’t Outrun the Grief of Losing a Parent

I recently read a piece to my parents that I wrote about my childhood. My dad was eager to share something about it but couldn’t express himself. After much guessing by my mom and me, Mom figured out the memory my piece had triggered for Dad. He wanted to recall the time he and I fought to bring the sport of lacrosse to the girls in my high school.

My dad introduced me to the landmark legislation that is Title IX. I did my research, got a petition going, and generated interest. My dad assisted me in preparing a budget, and in finding field space and coaching staff. We wrote letters to the athletic director and went to school board meetings. For one such meeting, I remember preparing a speech for what I wanted to say to the board. When the time came, I froze. I couldn’t find my words. So, my dad stepped in and passionately articulated why the girls in our school deserved a lacrosse team. He believed in the cause so much it was as if he was planning to play on the team himself.

I never did get my team. But it was my first glimpse into the importance of fighting for something you believed in.

Together, my Dad and I stood up. We saw an unfair situation and used our voices to try to make it right. We put the ball in motion for the school to get their girls’ team, which they eventually did. This story is one that my dad still remembers with pride.

Years later, my dad’s voice saved me again. This time, we were at my cousin’s college graduation. My large, Italian family and I as well as many of my cousin’s friends were out to dinner at a restaurant. I so badly wanted to say a few words to honor this very close cousin of mine. I tapped my glass with a fork. The crowd grew quiet as all eyes fell on me. Again, the words didn’t come. Instead, I turned to my dad and blurted out that he would like to share a few words. I put him right on the spot. Dad chuckled and reluctantly, he stood. He wholeheartedly took this opportunity I forced upon him to share some thoughtful and celebratory words. This story, even now, makes my dad laugh out loud.

RELATED: To the Dads Who Love Daughters

Fast forward another few years. I am in my 20s, in the real world, working at one of my first serious jobs. I was presented with an opportunity to interview for a position within the organization, 80% of which would involve public speaking. It would be a promotion for me if I got it. Unsure of what to do, I went to my dad for advice.

He encouraged me to take it, said that I had to if I wanted to grow both in my career and as a person.

I considered all he told me and apprehensively accepted the job. Taking it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was one of those life-changing, eye-opening, awe-inducing jobs that helped to shape who I am today. Through my presentations—to students, addicts, police officers, and inmates—I met remarkable individuals who brought intangible character traits like bravery, resiliency, and compassion to life.

I’ve been so focused on praying for a miracle, pleading with God to just clear Dad’s mind and make him well. I’ve found myself feeling stuck and helpless, wondering where He is and why this is happening to a man who has given so much of his life to helping others. And in all this desperation came something unexpected . . . appreciation. As I continue to watch my father struggle to speak, I can’t help but appreciate (even more so) how much his words have positively impacted my life. My heart is filled with so much sadness and pride.

While I am devastated I will no longer get to hear his worldly wisdom, I am so grateful to have heard it in the first place.

I now revel in taking every opportunity to stand up and say a few words (usually more than a few) on behalf of the birthday girl, the bride, the expectant mother, the retiree. Moving people through the spoken word is actually my jam now. I’ve changed so much—from a shy, hesitant girl into an outspoken, confident woman because of my father’s belief in me. His encouragement. His support. His guidance. But of all these gifts my dad has given me, the one I appreciate the most is how he fearlessly used his voice—whether it was for the greater good or to just bring a smile to the faces of those around him.

RELATED: My Mom May Be Dying, But She Will Never Leave Me

Even now, he refuses to give up.  And once again, I find myself in awe of him, admiring his determination to share his thoughts and memories with those around him. With this horrific disease has come the incredible realization of the most beautiful gift my father has given me—the power to find and use my own voice.

Laura Bagnarol

Laura Bagnarol is the founder of Be Big Be Brave LLC, a company that provides inspiring programs that encourage kids to be their big, brave selves. She is also the daughter of two Italian immigrants, the sister to five amazing siblings, the wife of one incredible husband, and the mom of three fiery children. Laura lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York. You can follow her @bebigbebrave.

If Only My Mother Were Still Here

In: Grief, Motherhood
Mother and daughter on beach at sunset

My strongest memory of my momma is more of a feeling than a memory. I can see myself standing in the bright kitchen of our big yellow house looking up at my beautiful momma surrounded by sunlight. I think she was handing me a glass of saltwater for a sore throat. But the feeling is what I remember in the most detail . . . I felt safe and loved, known and seen.   I knew that even if I didn’t know what I needed, she would always know. A hug, a song, a gentle nudge of confidence, a silly kitchen...

Keep Reading

How Grateful I Am for a Mother Who Believed in Me

In: Cancer, Grief
Mother and grown daughter, color photo

It was a hot summer day sometime in the middle of high school. I was young and naive, but the ugly six-letter word was looming over our family: cancer. Although I didn’t know it then, this would be our last normal summer before my mother’s health would worsen. Cancer would give way to terminal cancer. It’s funny how something so big can seem so small in those moments. My mom and I were sitting on our back porch, encased in a narrow hedge of yew bushes. It was a yellow, lazy Saturday, and my brothers and father were at Cub...

Keep Reading

A Medical Diagnosis Challenges a Marriage

In: Cancer, Living, Marriage
Bald woman holding clippers over husband's head, color photo

It is no secret now that Albert Pujols and his wife have announced their divorce shortly after she had surgery to remove a brain tumor. As a breast cancer survivor, this news hit me in a special way. As I was reading through an article from Today, there was a quote that hit me hard, “But a marriage falling apart is far more common when the wife is the patient, researchers have found. A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is...

Keep Reading

Dear Grandmother, I’m Not Ready to Lose You

In: Grief
Elderly woman and granddaughter touch foreheads

I had a visit from my grandmother the other day. It wasn’t a regular sit on the porch with a cup of tea kind of visit. It was more of an “I have something I need to tell you” type of visit. She’s been unwell for some time, and I guess I had sort of hoped she would get better, and she would be back to herself soon enough. I noticed when she sat down and tears filled her eyes that it wasn’t going to be a normal conversation. Her eyes widened and she struggled to get her words out without...

Keep Reading

Love Carries On in the Ones We Raise

In: Grief, Motherhood
Mother and son hug

From a very young age, two of the most important men in my life were my grandpa and my brother. I never could have imagined that I’d lose them both within nine months, nor could I predict the profound effects the magnitude of those losses would have on my life. My grandpa was my father figure and shepherd. I have endless memories of him— from splashing in the ocean together to shopping each Easter season for my Easter dress. He was always there. Every choir concert, musical, or school ceremony, I could easily find his face in the crowd. I...

Keep Reading

Friends Can Be a Sanctuary

In: Friendship, Grief
Group of friends hugging

A sanctuary is defined as anywhere people go for peaceful tranquility or introspection. My friends became my sanctuary when my husband, Frank, died. They became my refuge and my safe place. Friendship is one of the most wonderful gifts in this world. It is beautiful, comforting, ever-changing, and, for me, a fixed point.  My friends seemed to know exactly what I needed and when I needed it. Their love and constant support got me through the worst of times and gave me the courage and confidence I needed to move forward.  I could never give an adequate thank you to...

Keep Reading

All I Wanted Was For My Baby To Stay Alive

In: Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Sad woman with head in hands

Today is the day I’ve dreaded and resisted for almost a year: the day I face going through the white plastic bag the hospital sent home with me after my D&C, 10 months ago. This bag held my clothes, shoes, and wedding ring for the short time I was in surgery, but I rescued all of those precious items soon after waking. The items that remain show the paper trail of that difficult day—receipts from my hospital admittance and anesthesia, general post-operative care instructions, and a consent form for “treatment of incomplete abortion.” That last part brings tears to my...

Keep Reading

My Husband Makes Me a Stronger Woman

In: Grief, Loss, Marriage
Daddy standing over hospital crib with infant, black-and-white photo

A little over a year ago, my husband and I went through the unimaginable. We lost our child, Lillian, to a congenital heart defect. The days following that, and even to this day, people will comment on how strong I am. How well I’ve dealt with this darkness. How they can’t imagine what I am going through. The truth is I was never alone. From the day we found out I would give birth to a child who had complex heart defects, my husband has been there. Always in the background of what others saw but ever so present in...

Keep Reading

Mothers Don’t Teach Us How To Live Life Without Them

In: Grief, Grown Children, Loss, Motherhood
Woman in dress with corsage, smiling color photo

When you’re a little girl, you dream of marriage, children, a career, and memories that you will cherish forever—and you want your mother by your side at all times. Our mothers teach us how to live a life we will enjoy, but they never teach us how to live a life without them in it. Our mothers don’t tell us that one day they will not be here to answer the phone when we call or go on spontaneous dinner dates. My mother never told me there will come a day when she will be gone and how bad it...

Keep Reading

When Mother’s Day Feels Awkward, Find Comfort in Community

In: Grief, Living, Loss, Motherhood

Mother’s Day can be beautiful for some women. It can be hurt filled for others. Or in my case, it can just feel plain old awkward. I felt eight years of awkward Mother’s Days. In my late 20s to mid-30s, I felt like the woman no one knew what to say to or what to do with. I felt a double whammy on Mother’s Day. My mother was home in Heaven. My womb was empty and always would be. My desire to have a child was filled with an intentional choice to go a non-traditional route to motherhood and was...

Keep Reading

 5 Secrets to Connect with Your Kids

FREE EMAIL BONUS

Proven techniques to build REAL connections