As a former Captain in the Marine Corps, Vietnam Veteran and retired Sheriff’s deputy, my Dad Larry Harris is a true American hero. His humor is unparalleled and to hear him play you a song on the guitar is like you’re sitting back with Willy, Waylon and Hank.
In 2009, at age 66, daddy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at the time I don’t think I knew what to expect, I just remember thinking my dad wasn’t old enough to have it. I researched the disease and saw how it affected people. I was naive in thinking it wouldn’t go that far with my dad. Over the past 6 years I have watched this horrible disease take over his mind and body. Watching someone who has always been so strong and so bright fight a losing battle with Alzheimer’s is one of the hardest things I have had to do.
One of my saddest and happiest times with my father came on Father’s Day of 2014. My husband and I pulled up to my dad’s house and as always he was seated in his rocker on his front porch. As I walked up to him he started to cry and gave me a big hug, as we were embracing he introduced himself to me “I’m Larry”, I simply said “I know who you are”. Although he didn’t know who I was, he knew I was someone he loved.
As I held his hand we walked through the house and he gave me a tour (as if I had never been there) and he showed me all his pictures and all his medals from the Marine Corps. We both spotted the dusty guitar in the corner of his sitting room and I smiled at the memories. At that moment he walked over and grabbed his guitar, sat down and started strumming. He has not picked up his guitar in years and most of the time did not remember he played. Something about today was different; he played the most beautiful music I had ever heard. I sat on the floor while he played and looked up at him like I have so many other times, I knew he was still in there and that gave me some peace. His concert only lasted about 3 minutes but that memory will be with me forever.
In just the 8 months since then Daddy has lost even more of himself. Simple tasks like brushing his teeth and eating have been forgotten and trying to hold a conversation is impossible. I know what his future is and my hope is that other families won’t have to go through this. At 31 I didn’t think I would be dealing with this and I know my dad didn’t. There is still hope, we can’t give up!
~ An Essay from Ambassador, Amanda Ritenberry about her dad, Larry