Dad Had Alzheimer’s But Was “Still In There”


My dad, Kent Bolsta

Three years ago, my first book was published. It was a business book, and I brought it to St. Cloud, Minnesota, to give a copy to my mom. On my way back home to Minneapolis, I stopped at the nursing home to see my dad. He was sitting in the day room in the Alzheimer’s ward, waiting for lunch. Well, that’s not entirely true; he wasn’t waiting for lunch, or waiting for anything for that matter. He was just sitting at a table, slumped in his chair, his mouth hanging open, a vacant look in his eyes.

As usual, he didn’t react when I walked over to him. I sat down and said, “Dad, I wrote a book. See, my name’s on the cover.” He stared blankly ahead. I told him that, all my life, whenever I wrote something I was proud of, that he was the first person I wanted to show it to. And then something amazing happened—he started to cry. Hugging him, I told him that I knew he understood what I was saying, and that that meant the world to me. He cried twice more before I left. Here I thought he had left us long ago, but somehow, some way, he had broken through the barrier of his ravaged mind to let me know that he was still in there, and still proud of me. Three months later, he was gone.

For an even more dramatic example of how a soul can transcend Alzheimer’s, read this story from Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, Kitchen Table Wisdom. It will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up—in a good way. If this isn’t proof, I don’t know what is.

Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that a loved one with dementia has no clue about what’s going on. On the deepest level imaginable, they’re still there. And still loving you.

POSTSCRIPT 1: A few years before this moment with my dad, I wrote an essay for the Minneapolis Star Tribune about his long, slow descent into Alzheimer’s.

POSTSCRIPT 2: My dad not only personally welcomed the guests at his funeral, he also provided the entertainment. Here is my eulogy from that service.

Click here to see all my posts featuring my parents and grandparents.

Click here to see all my posts related to Alzheimer’s.


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2 Responses to “Dad Had Alzheimer’s But Was “Still In There””

  1. Laura Bramly Says:

    Hi Phil:

    Thanks for letting me know the link for your follow-up story. This experience that you had with your dad really resonated with me. In my mother’s final year, I really needed to talk to her about something personal, regarding someone that I knew and that she knew as well. I was sad, of course, that I couldn’t have a heart to heart talk with her, but I thought “Well, if I just say what I wanted to say out loud, at least I’ll feel a bit better even if she doesn’t respond.” So I waited until we were alone in her room, and as she lay stretched out on her bed staring at the ceiling and smiling, I talked to her. And she responded “Well, a bit late for that now, isn’t it?” I have to tell you, that was the most appropriate response she could have given. I think she was listening, and understood what I was saying at some level, and at the very least, she was listening with her heart and understood my feelings.

    We know so little about how people operate under the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and our tendency to think the worst is doing them such a disservice.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I appreciate you sharing that, Laura. I’m glad you had that moment with your mother. I believe that an Alzheimer’s sufferer’s mind is whole and intact but they just can’t express themselves anymore, like they’re trapped in their bodies. There are so many instances like this that you can’t help but at least wonder.

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