My papa, Peter, was the sharpest man I knew, but his point was slowly fading, without a way to sharpen it.

It didn’t matter when or where I saw my papa, my eyes brightened, and I knew I was in for a time filled with laughter. He had the best sense of humor, and we always had fun times together. He would sing and dance to songs and pull me to dance with him. He would always have a package of mints in his pocket, which he offered to anyone he was talking to.

Then one day we learned he had been diagnosed with dementia, a disease that tampers with one’s memory. I was heartbroken, and it soon became clear to me the importance of memories. As long as the memories are alive, so are the experiences. I also learned that the mind, the most important part of the body, must be kept sharp and healthy.

It soon became a round of hospital stays — in one night and out the next. For a long period of time, he lived at home with a caregiver, but as the illness worsened he had to stay in the hospital. Toward the end, he was transferred to his final destination — the Huntington Hills nursing home. My family and I would visit him in the sunflower-colored building. These were some of his worst days.

One day as we walked into his room, I noticed my uncle and grandma with long faces; this was the one time I knew I wasn’t going to have fun with my papa. The change in his face and body were unrecognizable. He looked like a completely different person. Tears flooded mine and my sister’s faces as my dad comforted us with his kind words. I knelt down at the bed where my papa lay. Never would I have thought that a man so talkative and full of life could lie speechless and exhausted. Struggling to hide my tears, I was able to whisper, “I love you, Papa.” As I spoke, he held my hand, and tears trickled down our faces as we refused to let go of each other.

One night I overhead my parents say, “It may be his time to go soon.” Then on April 29, 2016, my dad said, “Allison, Papa passed away a little over two hours ago.” After the first few words, the waterworks began, and my head spun while my parents embraced me in a warm hug.

As a result of my papa’s illness and passing, I truly experienced the importance of family, the importance of cherishing the times spent together and the importance of sticking together even in the toughest of times. When he was diagnosed with dementia, I learned the importance of memories, and that once the mind is injured and can’t be fixed, the memories are gone. No matter what happens, I will always savor the memories I have of my papa. He is forever alive in my heart.

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