Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Perspectives: For Dad

A daughter struggles to accept the limitations of her ailing father.




 

Dad and I are watching “Golden Girls” reruns on the couch. We’re holding hands. Sometimes, we drink milkshakes while paging through the newspaper. Sometimes we play catch. Today, the ladies are having their banter; when Sophia makes a sassy quip, dad lets out a familiar, full body, uproarious fit of laughter. It’s a reminder that my inability to be subtle when I’m laughing is hereditary. It is a decidedly good day. Dad is in a good mood. I feel so close to him.

For a moment, I forget where we are.

Still holding hands, he turns to me. With a confused, but warm, smile, he asks, “Are you sure you’re in the right place?”

I give him a hug goodbye and barely make it out into the hallway before crying. 

Six years ago, while living in Fort Collins, Colo., I returned to Pittsburgh for a weeklong visit. While back at home, I saw how bad my dad’s health issues had become and knew I would need to return indefinitely. I wanted to be here while he still remembered who I was, before Alzheimer’s made him forget who I am.

My father, Tom Semler, was the kindest, warmest father. Growing up, I can’t remember a day where I wasn’t told that I was loved. He taught me to be compassionate, patient and loving. He was also courageous; after leaving the seminary (he says he “didn’t enjoy the praying like I thought I should”), he served in the Marines and then joined the Peace Corps. He was serving in the Dominican Republic when revolution broke out; he refused to leave, saying that someone needed to protect the people in the village where he lived.

Even now, it fills me with guilt to talk about him like this — in the past tense. He’s still here.

As his memory and comprehension began to deteriorate — he was diagnosed after a hip replacement in 2008 — he would fixate on specific memories, reciting them again and again. Nearly every time I saw him, he brought up the night before my graduation from Edinboro University; he and my mom attended a small ceremony where I collected different cords and sashes. A host of professors was lined up, shaking hands with students. According to Dad, I was the only student who got a hug, rather than a handshake, from every professor in line. He was so damn proud.

I’m thankful his brain chose that memory to play on repeat.

I’ve found a career in my father’s footsteps. Dad was over the moon when I ran the Students for Obama group in college. I planned to join the Peace Corps after graduating, just like him, but opted to be an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer instead, working for an organization dedicated to fighting relational aggression and bullying. 

After moving back home, however, I had to rebuild. I had a decent job, but as a melancholy philosophy grad, I feared I wasn’t doing meaningful work. My dad has this unending, supportive (even annoying) positivity. This was only a phase, he assured me. I was going to find something amazing, I was a superstar (man, did he love that word). Remember that time before graduation, when I got all those hugs? 

And now, I’m working at a great job. Soon after I was hired, I met former Congressman Joe Sestak at an event. My dad had volunteered a lot for Sestak when I was a kid. When I told my dad about the meeting, though, there was no recognition in his face — just some confusion and a slight pang of embarrassment.

Around this time, I could tell when my dad knew he was missing information he thought he should have. Sometimes he doesn’t say very much, sometimes he says a lot — even with impressive vocabulary — but none of it makes sense. I’ve learned to listen intently and agree with him; I want him to feel heard. I’ll put my arm around him, and he’ll make a sound of contentment. This makes me happy.

In April, I was unanimously nominated as president of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County. Within an hour, I had received more congratulatory texts than I could count. The excited thoughts rolling through my head were interrupted: “Dad would be so proud.”

Dad would be so proud.

I started weeping, hot tears streaming down my face. Deep breaths and a pain in my chest. 

I know without a doubt that my dad would be happy for me. I hope he would have felt partially responsible. But he can’t witness and understand it. I wish he were here — fully here — so that I could tell him he was right. To thank him.

Alzheimer’s is cruel. Reconciling feelings of deep loss and grief for someone when you can still hold their hand is deeply complicated.  

Jessica Semler is a contributing writer for the Pittsburgh Current, and shares commentary on social issues on her blog, jessicarabbid.com. She is the former public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, and continues to advocate for reproductive rights in various community groups. She was named to The Incline’s list of activists building a better Pittsburgh and was in 2017 the runner-up in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best Activist” award. She is a proud resident of Etna.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

First Look: A Sculpture Garden Blooms at Hartwood Acres

Pittsburgh Magazine shares what’s taking shape with the sculpture collection at Hartwood Acres.

The Pittsburgh Team Names That Might've Been

We've known them for decades as the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins, but for a few twists of fate, the closets of dedicated fans could look a lot different.

Register for Pittsburgh-Made Wares for Your Wedding

Downtown shop PG&H will feature locally made bowties, jewelry and more in a bridal trunk show on Thursday.

Watch: Pittsburgh Invites Visitors to Pull Up a Chair

VisitPITTSBURGH unveils its new national marketing campaign designed to capture the welcoming spirit of Pittsburghers. Pull up a chair and take a look.

Get the Scoop on Up-and-Coming Crafters at Show and Sell

Taking place at Construction Junction, the spring pop-up market from Handmade Arcade will feature 30 local makers selling home decor, clothing and art.

The City's Free Grass Cutting Service is Back for Its Second Year

There’s four different ways to apply — do you qualify?

Kennywood Earns Designation as Certified Autism Center

With noise-cancelling headphones and sensory bags, park officials hope its summertime fun can be accessible for more families.

For Three Days, Sesame Street Will be in Pittsburgh

Kids can join Big Bird, Elmo and more Muppets as Sesame Workshop plans three days of events during a stop in Pittsburgh in June.

Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

The answer to a self-inflicted postseason sweep must begin with getting the players and their coach back on the same page regarding what’s required for survival in the playoffs.

Picklesburgh to Double in Size for Its Fifth Year

Nation’s top speciality food festival to spill out onto Ft. Duquesne Boulevard.

A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello to Alta Via, Leo. A Public House, a new Milk Shake Factory location and more.

Is Your Pittsburgh Street on This Year's Road Repaving List?

The City of Pittsburgh has announced its street paving plan for 2019. You’re one click away from finding out if your street or route to work is on the list.

Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

PM intern Amanda Myers recounts the radio-rock adventures that life as a Downtown student has made possible.

The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The latest chapter in the Hong Kong martial-arts franchise gets a Pittsburgh release.

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The latest chapter in the Conjuring franchise concerns a sinister spirit from folklore.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Watch: Pittsburgh Invites Visitors to Pull Up a Chair

Watch: Pittsburgh Invites Visitors to Pull Up a Chair

VisitPITTSBURGH unveils its new national marketing campaign designed to capture the welcoming spirit of Pittsburghers. Pull up a chair and take a look.

Comments

The City's Free Grass Cutting Service is Back for Its Second Year

The City's Free Grass Cutting Service is Back for Its Second Year

There’s four different ways to apply — do you qualify?

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello to Alta Via, Leo. A Public House, a new Milk Shake Factory location and more.

Comments

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

Look for New Mexican cuisine, customizable chicken and more as half of the Pittsburgh Galley Group concepts change in the next few months.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

PM intern Amanda Myers recounts the radio-rock adventures that life as a Downtown student has made possible.

Comments

Take Your Video-Game Habit Into the Real World at Rogue Laser Grounds

Take Your Video-Game Habit Into the Real World at Rogue Laser Grounds

The pop-up laser tag arena takes the mechanics of online video games into a undeniably cool setting.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

The answer to a self-inflicted postseason sweep must begin with getting the players and their coach back on the same page regarding what’s required for survival in the playoffs.

Comments

Pens Don't Need to Overwhelm Islanders, Just Outlast Them

Pens Don't Need to Overwhelm Islanders, Just Outlast Them

Patience, persistence and taking what the game gives is critical in Round One.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The latest chapter in the Hong Kong martial-arts franchise gets a Pittsburgh release.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The latest chapter in the Conjuring franchise concerns a sinister spirit from folklore.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Register for Pittsburgh-Made Wares for Your Wedding

Register for Pittsburgh-Made Wares for Your Wedding

Downtown shop PG&H will feature locally made bowties, jewelry and more in a bridal trunk show on Thursday.

Comments

Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

A graffiti-decorated cake, a sequined jacket for the groom and a violinist playing hip-hop covers wowed guests at this Strip District wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get the Scoop on Up-and-Coming Crafters at Show and Sell

Get the Scoop on Up-and-Coming Crafters at Show and Sell

Taking place at Construction Junction, the spring pop-up market from Handmade Arcade will feature 30 local makers selling home decor, clothing and art.

Comments

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Featuring innovative indoor animal shelters designed by local architects and artists going up for auction, the event at PerLora raises money for Animal Friends.

Comments