I'm Not Gonna Miss You: Expats and Alzheimer's ...

If an expat lifeline social media is a part of your life, there's no doubt you're bombarded with a multitude of clips, links, and memes on a daily basis. Probably to the point where you've become immune to the ''must read'' and ''this is amazing!'' taglines that accompany each. There's a good chance you just skip on by and move on to original, authentic and heart-felt status updates that are more likely to give you a taste of what's truly going on in the world outside ''your'' world.

But occasionally, an image or a single word may get you to click on a link and explore a bit further.  

For me, that word is ''Alzheimer's''.  

Largely, I guess, because it's a term that took on a simultaneously ominous and  fortunate significance in the last two years of my Dad's life.  Alzheimer's was the double-edged sword that robbed my Dad of the ability to remember my daughter's name, while gratefully allowing him to forget within seconds the crushing bouts of pain caused by the cancer invading his cells.  

And it seems I see ''Alzheimer's'' in my feed a lot these days.  Or maybe it's just that I notice it more because it robbed this world of my Dad.

When a fellow expat blogger recently asked me what I thought I'd lost and learned as an expat in the ME, she was really surprised when I didn't answer ''my Dad''.  

I guess her surprise made me stop and question why I hadn't chosen that exact response.  Because, seriously, losing my Dad last March made me second guess just about everything about my life as an expat.  

And what I've realised is that I didn't lose my Dad as 'an expat'.  No more than I lost him as a woman, as a Canadian, as a Catholic, or as a 44-year-old.  Quite simply, I lost my Dad.  As a daughter does.  With no thought as to her race or religion or citizenship or marital status.  With no thought other than those of a lost little girl.  

That's what I've realised:  I would have lost him regardless of whether or not I was an expat.

And I guess that much like Alzheimer's didn't define who my Dad was in his death, being an expat didn't define me in my grieving.  And just as having Alzheimer's was both a gift and a curse for my Dad, being an expat has both intensified and veiled my loss.  

But what does that really mean?  Because even though I didn't lose my Dad as a result of being an expat, there is definitely a distinct twist to losing my Dad as an expat.

To start off with, the good.  

After the diagnosis of cancer and Alzheimer's were first made, I - in Qatar - could call my Dad - in Canada - and tell him I'd see him tomorrow, and he'd be so happy.  And I'd call him the next day and tell him the same, and he'd be happy again.  We'd have the same old conversation over and over again, and he'd be happy.  I could never tell if he thought he'd seen me yesterday or months ago, but that's probably because he was so uncertain himself.

When I could, I'd fly to Canada to see him.  If anything, because of the amount of annual leave (in most professional organisations) in this country, I was probably able to go to him more often than I could have had I been living on either coast of Canada.  I was able to spend two full weeks with him in his last three weeks of life.  

When he passed, exactly 1 week after I'd left his bedside in Montreal, I was given 7 working days compassionate leave to go back for his funeral.  More than I'd probably have been given in Canada.  

Of course, there was a lot of bad.  

When I first learned my Dad was terminal, I was 10,400 km away.  ''Should I go now, should I wait until I know more, can I hold it together, will I make it through the day, should I share it with my colleagues, do I buy an open-ended ticket, what do I do if I go and am not here for parent-teacher night, who will double-check Kiddo's lunchbox, what do I tell Kiddo, who will braid her hair, do I need Smilin' Vic to come with me for the funeral, what if my plane crashes?''  If you can imagine it, I probably thought it. 

There were terrifying times when my sisters and my brother and my nieces and nephews all rushed to my Dad's bedside and I was here alone.

There were those devastating moments at the end of a Skype call when I'd break down in tears after having held it in for twenty minutes and pretended all was as it had always been and life was nothing but sunshine and rainbows.

There were those soul-crushing moments where I'd kiss my Dad goodbye, smiling and saying I'd see him tomorrow, all the while knowing that the next night I'd be back in Qatar, 10,400 km away, 24 hours closer to losing him.  

And finally, nirvana:  

The realisation that in many ways my Dad was gone before he physically left us.  The realisation that he had fully accomplished what he'd set out to: his kids and his family knew he loved them.  The realisation that the veil of forgetfulness that had shrouded him over the last years had frozen his love in time.  The realisation that my Dad didn't dwell on missing me; that if there were moments in his last days where he DID miss me, they were fleeting.  The realisation that distance and presence had ceased to make a difference in his life.

The realisation that everything I most loved about my Dad continued to exist, even though it was no longer encased in his physical being.  

The realisation that, as an expat, I could continue to pretend, most days, that my Dad was nothing more than a phone call away.  Much like he'd been for my entire adult life.  The realisation that being an expat would forevermore allow me to indulge in my own form of Alzheimer's - I forget he's gone and I reach for the phone.  And when I realise my mistake, I make a virtual call and repeat the same old conversations in my head.  And I'm happy.  

A few days ago, someone posted a link to a Glen Campbell song on Facebook.  My Dad was a big Glen Campbell fan.  But that's not what caught my attention.  What did was the word ''Alzheimer's''.  So I clicked on the link - Glen Campbell's last song, recorded when he was already in the grips of this insidious disease.  And the words, Wow!  The words ...

Could have easily been Dad singing those words.  I'm not gonna miss you Daddy ... I'm gonna love you 'til the end.