Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Flying Lessons

Dad's terminal diagnosis was severe aortic stenosis. In layman's terms, the aorta that pumps blood
away from the heart to other organs, including the brain, should have been like a garden hose but was more of a pin-sized flow. Dementia was only one symptom but was the most devastatingly apparent.

Dad had always been a story-teller and loved to recount his boyhood days as the oldest of four rambunctious boys, as well as his Army and traveling experiences. One day, Dad began to talk about his days piloting a single-engine plane. My initial response was to say, "that was your brother Bill, remember?"At first, Dad agreed that he had never flown a plane and laughed it off as what he called "old-timer's disease." Truth prevailed.

As time went by, Dad began to weave more vivid tales of his flying escapades. In one tale, he buzzed a dairy farm and scared the cows so badly their milk couldn't be used that day!

As I realized the lines of imagination and reality were becoming more blurred, I made a conscious decision to give Dad his dream. Phrases like, "don't you remember" would never again escape my lips. Instead, I replaced them with questions like, "will you tell me again about the time you flew over Allegheny State Park in the fall" and "what did it feel like to fly over Niagara Falls?" I wasn't feeding into a lie, I was freeing his mind to soar and giving him back the joy of younger years, whether real or imagined. It was his truth and I made it mine. Dad taught me to fly with him and never give up on dreams.

This blog entry was written by Laura Adams, Administrative Assistant to The Arbor Hospice Foundation. You may contact Laura by commenting below or emailing her at


  1. My dad did a similar thing, Laura. He was a University of Michigan football fan, and although he had never met Bo Schembechler, by the time my dad died he'd coached for Bo, as well as played both offense and defense.

  2. What an accomplishment! Did you have any initial difficulty encouraging his "new memories"?

  3. Hi, Laura, I found his new "accomplishments" so amusing that it wasn't hard to play along. I emailed my siblings with his new tales, noting the subject line as "Life is good with dementia." I was happy for him. When you go from a virile, strong man to someone who can't remember things and can barely walk, it's got to be a blow to the psyche. He developed a creative alternative.

  4. Lorri, I love the email subject line! Creativity and a sense of humor -- I hope for the same when my train-of-thought derails further down the dementia track!