Daddy’s ‘Little Girl’ Watched Parts of Her Father Slip Away Day by Day
By: Yuridia Peña
CSA has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association/NYC Chapter to raise funds for research as well as to promote the services the Association provides to caretakers and Alzheimer’s victims.
As part of that partnership, the CSA News is highlighting the stories of several of the union’s members who have taken care of, or helped to take care of, a father, a mother or a spouse who has been stricken with this disease. This is the first in the series. Nydia Acevedo is the Principal of PS 7, Brooklyn. Her father died last year after a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s. This is her story as told to and reported by CSA News’ Yuridia Peña.
My father, Arturo Cardona Acevedo, first showed signs of Alzheimer’s with sporadic hallucinations. During those episodes, I would take him outside for walks to calm him down. Alzheimer’s turned my dad – a loving patriarch who posed as Santa Claus each Christmas and danced salsa in the living room of our Brooklyn home in Brownsville with my mother – into someone who couldn’t recognize the family that he adored.
My dad fought the illness for three years, until his death last year, but he was not alone.
Misdiagnosis At First
At first, doctors thought his hallucinations were due to sleep deprivation, but, after a traumatic fall to the head, the disease took control and he never came back. As his condition progressed, dementia followed, but at least he always knew who my mother and I were.
I am the only daughter among three brothers, so you can say I am daddy’s little girl. My mom and dad always encouraged and supported me in my studies. To this day I do not cook. My only job growing up was to read, spend hours in the library and exceed in my studies, and as a result I was in the gifted and talented programs.
My father was a true provider. He came to New York from his native Puerto Rico seeking a better life. Growing up, he was very strict, but he loved his family and spoiled us. He taught me that responsibility is number one as well as commitment and dedication. Those were the values he instilled in his children and grandchildren.
From early on in my life I always knew I would become an educator. My dad knew also. He bought my first chalkboard for my bedroom. When I moved out of my parent’s house at 27, I was a teacher and every morning, my father would meet me at a nearby gas station on Pennsylvania Avenue and Flatlands Avenue [in Brooklyn] to hand me my breakfast and newspaper.
When I gave birth to my son, my father had retired from the paint supply company in Queens where he worked for more than 30 years, and he offered to help raise my son. Every day, my parents came to my house to take care of my son while I went to work. They would cook for me; to this day my mom still cooks for me.
At the time I worked as a staff developer, which meant that I had to come early and leave late. My parents made it easier for me, even as I realized how difficult and overwhelming the profession got. My dad gave me the strength and support to continue.
My father played a bigger role in my son’s life than his own father. My son is 17 now and, ironically, is a great cook. He’s also very outspoken, fearless and kindhearted as a result of his grandparents taking care of him since birth. Because of my parents, I am a Principal at PS 7 in Brooklyn. I owe them my career. My father always took the time to acknowledge me and say “I’m proud of you”.
His condition affected all of us because we are such a close-knit family. He was the glue that held us together. Every day I would meet my mom at the facility where he was admitted and play dominoes, groom and feed him. He would have moments of clarity and he would ask about my son and the rest of the family. We would bring him home for Christmas, but he wasn’t the same – he was very quiet.
Toll on Caregivers
I barely took care of myself and appeared very stressed out. I’m fortunate enough to have a dynamite team at school and they understood what I was going through and were very supportive throughout the process. I did not have to worry about coming in late, leaving early or taking off suddenly. I did not have to worry about things not getting done at work.
I miss sharing my life with him. I miss the picnics and the parties. I miss the Valentine’s Day cards and the ballgames. I miss being his daughter. I miss having my dad.