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It’s been three years since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, yet in all the celebration afterward, one moment was permanently etched in my memory.
It involved TJ Oshie, holding the Stanley Cup over his head, then handing it to his father to do the same. They locked eyes like they were really trying to make it a memory they would never forget. Only afterward, when a tearful Oshie told the media his Dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s, did I understand.
I lost a father-in-law to Alzheimer’s 15 years ago, and if you’ve never had to deal with it affecting a loved one, you’re lucky. They call it “the long goodbye,” but it’s just an awful disease. None of us can escape the circle of life, as at some point we all know our days on earth will come to an end.
But when that happens, there are certain things everyone should get to experience. Like the ability to say goodbye to that loved one. To share old memories. To be able to tell that person how much they meant to them. To thank them for the help they gave, or ask forgiveness to lift the weight of some deed in the past. To squeeze the hand of someone who has long been a mentor and tour guide in this thing called life, and gently let go.
Whether it’s the blink of an eye, a squeeze of a hand in return, or just a nod, all give closure. Only with Alzheimer’s it doesn’t happen, as the person returns your stare…and doesn’t know who you are.
In the final months of Alzheimer’s, as just about every memory fades, we at least experienced occasional flickers of some memories with my father-in-law. Some were him recognizing his daughters, his wife, or his grandchildren for just a brief moment.
Some, however, were of the most extreme moments he experienced in life.
One night, for example, he thought he was on Normandy Beach in World War II. It was the only time I ever saw him act scared. He referred to me as “the big man” thinking I was his commanding officer. Fortunately that memory only lasted a brief minute too. You hope and pray for recall, but the flickers of memories with Alzheimer’s can be both a blessing and a curse.
So when it was announced Tuesday that Oshie’s father – who had long been his mentor, coach and friend – had passed away, I immediately thought back to that moment. I’m sure TJ had accepted what all of us dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s has to face – that the person they knew and loved was no longer there, robbed of all the experiences and memories that made them such a unique and powerful person in their lives.
But the final passing still hammers you hard, and TJ broke down on the bench after scoring three goals in last night’s game. I found myself with something in my eyes too, remembering what it was like 15 years ago. It’s something that never goes away.
So TJ, I’m so sorry for your loss, as a son losing a father – particularly so young – is such a traumatic experience. Here’s to wishing you peace of mind, and that the pain of this eventually subsides.
But I also hope that somewhere in the fog of Alzheimer’s, your Dad’s memory flickered at least one more time, and that the extreme moment in his life his mind was able to fight through and remember was a warm June night on the ice in Las Vegas back in 2018.
And that you two got to share it one last time.