guest post by Joy Leveen
My dad has Alzheimer’s.
These days, it’s good if he remembers my name. He’ll be 70 in September and we’ve been living with this awful disease for nearly six years. A trip to see his favorite football player of all time—Joe Montana—is not in the cards for him.
I have been a devoted 49ers fan since I was born. I can plot my life along the Niners timeline. There is a picture of me wearing a 49ers helmet and red footie pajamas when I was 4 years old. The Niners won their first Super Bowl the year I was born, and won their third the year my sister was born. She arrived the day after that Super Bowl; I honestly don’t know what my dad would have done if Mom went into labor during that Super Bowl. Alecia has been called “Josephine” for years in honor of her almost-birthday. Each Christmas, my father, a pastor for his entire career,would tell us the Christmas story . . . with baby Joe Montana being born and wrapped in red and gold cloths by Bill Walsh. It was a strange, great blend of Christian and 49er subculture.
Now, I am going to watch Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and other amazing 49er players play flag football in Candlestick Park! It is their way of saying good-bye to the iconic stadium. For me, it is a dream come true, a bucket list experience—and a way to honor my dad.
When I heard that Joe, Jerry, Dwight, and the gang were getting back together for one last game at Candlestick, my first thought was “Dad would love that!” Only he doesn’t travel much anymore, and he certainly couldn’t handle the crowds of a major sporting event.
Living with an Alzheimer’s patient is hard. The understatement of the century. There is no break from it, no day off, no way to return to our “normal family” for a bit. The disease is so insidious because it steals my dad slowly. One day he can remember names; another day, I am my sister, my mom, and myself from moment to moment. I couldn’t say when he stopped being able to dress himself without assistance; the days and losses blend together. But Dad can play on the floor with my three-year-old for hours—two boys for whom time does not matter.
Watching 49ers games is hard now. Weird, right? I get breathless, anxious, and filled with adrenaline. It’s hard to watch with anybody else. Super Bowl 2012 against the Ravens started out well. I was laughing and joking, and teasing a friend who is as devoted to the Steelers as I am to the Niners. If we won this game, we would have won as many Bowls as the Steelers. Then the Ravens pulled ahead and stayed ahead. The joking wasn’t funny any more. The good natured ribbing stung. I had to go home before the game was over. As the seconds ticked away, I sat on our couch with my husband’s arms around me, tears rolling down my checks. A Super Bowl lost. Inconceivable.
I knew it was the last Niner’s Super Bowl my dad would be able to enjoy.
I don’t cry much about my dad’s disease. There isn’t an event to mourn. The diagnosis day? I was too worried about my dad and helping my mom manage Dad’s reaction. The losses now are so basic, so elemental; what is there to elicit emotion? I can’t break down in front of Dad, as there is no way to explain it to him. But a game lost, a championship record broken? That I can cry about. Watching the Niners allows me to mourn the father I knew, the relationship I treasured. The loss of my Dad is so oppressive that I can only take it in pieces. 16 pieces, usually; 20 pieces on a good year.
I get to go to Candlestick to enjoy the spectacle of legendary players playing a great game. To say I saw Joe play in Candlestick. Maybe even score a touchdown. To say good-bye to a great stadium. And to say good-bye to Dad.