Beth Malone : How my dad's dementia changed my idea of death
(and life)

I've been doing some thinking. I'm going to kill my dad. I called my sister.

"Listen, I've been doing some thinking. I'm going to kill Dad. I'm going to take him to Oregon, find some heroin, and give it to him."

My dad has frontotemporal lobe dementia, or FTD. It's a confusing disease that hits people in their 50s or 60s. It can completely change someone's personality, making them paranoid and even violent. My dad's been sick for a decade, but three years ago he got really sick, and we had to move him out of his house -- the house that I grew up in, the house that he built with his own hands. My strapping, cool dad with the falsetto singing voice had to move into a facility for round-the-clock care when he was just 65.

At first my mom and sisters and I made the mistake of putting him in a regular nursing home. It was really pretty; it had plush carpet and afternoon art classes and a dog named Diane. But then I got a phone call.

"Ms. Malone, we've arrested your father."


"Well, he threatened everybody with cutlery. And then he yanked the curtains off the wall, and then he tried to throw plants out the window. And then, well, he pulled all the old ladies out of their wheelchairs."

"All the old ladies?"

"What a cowboy."

After he got kicked out of there, we bounced him between a bunch of state-run facilities before finding a treatment center specifically for people with dementia. At first, he kind of liked it, but over time his health declined, and one day I walked in and found him sitting hunched over on the ground wearing a onesie -- those kinds of outfits that zip in the back. I watched him for about an hour as he yanked at it, trying to find a way out of this thing. And it's supposed to be practical, but to me it looked like a straightjacket. And so I ran out. I left him there. I sat in my truck -- his old truck -- hunched over, this really deep guttural cry coming out of the pit of my belly. I just couldn't believe that my father, the Adonis of my youth, my really dear friend, would think that this kind of life was worth living anymore.

We're programmed to prioritize productivity. So when a person -- an Adonis in this case -- is no longer productive in the way we expect him to be, the way that he expects himself to be, what value does that life have left? That day in the truck, all I could imagine was that my dad was being tortured and his body was the vessel of that torture. I've got to get him out of that body. I've got to get him out of that body; I'm going to kill Dad.

I call my sister.

"Beth," she said. "You don't want to live the rest of your life knowing that you killed your father. And you'd be arrested I think, because he can't condone it. And you don't even know how to buy heroin."

It's true, I don't.

The truth is we talk about his death a lot. When will it happen? What will it be like? But I wish that we would have talked about death when we were all healthy. What does my best death look like? What does your best death look like? But my family didn't know to do that. And my sister was right. I shouldn't murder Dad with heroin, but I've got to get him out of that body.

So I went to a psychic. And then a priest, and then a support group, and they all said the same thing: sometimes people hang on when they're worried about loved ones. Just tell them you're safe, and it's OK to go when you're ready.

So I went to see Dad. I found him hunched over on the ground in the onesie. He was staring past me and just kind of looking at the ground. I gave him a ginger ale and just started talking about nothing in particular, but as I was talking, he sneezed from the ginger ale. And the sneeze -- it jerked his body upright, sparking him back to life a little bit. And he just kept drinking and sneezing and sparking, over and over and over again until it stopped. And I heard, "Heheheheheh, heheheheheh ... this is so fabulous. This is so fabulous."

His eyes were open and he was looking at me, and I said, "Hi, Dad!" and he said, "Hiya, Beth." And I opened my mouth to tell him, right? "Dad, if you want to die, you can die. We're all OK." But as I opened my mouth to tell him, all I could say was, "Dad! I miss you." And then he said, "Well, I miss you, too." And then I just fell over because I'm just a mess.

So I fell over and I sat there with him because for the first time in a long time he seemed kind of OK. And I memorized his hands, feeling so grateful that his spirit was still attached to his body. And in that moment I realized I'm not responsible for this person. I'm not his doctor, I'm not his mother, I'm certainly not his God, and maybe the best way to help him and me is to resume our roles as father and daughter.

And so we just sat there, calm and quiet like we've always done. Nobody was productive. Both of us are still strong.

"OK, Dad. I'm going to go, but I'll see you tomorrow."

"OK," he said. "Hey, this is a pretty nice hacienda."

Thank you.