When Liliana Bellini’s mother passed away in 2013, she feared that her relationship with her elderly father would be lost to the cruel progression of his disease: Alzheimer’s. However, to Liliana’s delight, her father let her into a shared secret world that strengthened their connection like never before.
Liliana chooses not to use the term “Alzheimer’s” to describe her father’s condition; rather, she says he can “time travel.”
“He started when my Mamma died seven years ago,” Liliana shared with the Alzheimer’s Society’s Facebook page on July 5. “He didn’t like being at home without her, he missed her too much.”
However, the now-89-year-old found comfort in revisiting the past and regenerating the memories of his beloved life partner. “He seems to like it better there, because he rarely comes back to the present day,” Liliana reflected.
Liliana’s time-traveling father resides in Italy in an apartment with his carer, Alla, a woman Liliana described as “the most loving, kind, and patient human being I know.” Liliana, while living in a completely different country, pledged to visit her father as often as she could after her mother’s passing.
“In fact,” she clarified, “I had my flight booked to see him in March, but lockdown happened and everything stopped.”
To make up for the time, Liliana calls her father more often, joining him on his cerebral travels from the comfort of their respective homes. Sometimes, she said, her father finds himself back at primary school, worried about his homework; sometimes he is commuting and asks Liliana to wake him if he falls asleep on the train before reaching his station.
There are times the loving daughter laments when her father doesn’t remember who she is and confuses her with other people. However, there are other precious moments when she is “La mia piccolina” (“My little one”) all over again for him.
“He tells me all sorts of little things I’ve never heard,” she said, adding, “some secrets, too.”
Lockdown, while preventing Liliana from flying to be by her dear father’s side, has nonetheless allowed her to meet him exactly where he is. “I can be anyone his time traveler’s mind wants me to be,” she explained. “We travel to a place where our time together is precious, as well as non-existent.”
“[T]he words, ‘Ti amo Papa’ travel through symptoms, time and matter, and reach him deeply,” she further continued. “When he hears them I can see he lets them in […] he really sees me, and says, ‘I know, I love you, too.’” With this, the father-daughter duo gets tearful.
Liliana, now closer to her father than ever before, shared her story of finding joy in what remains with a vast community of people coping with Alzheimer’s disease, whether having the disease themselves or, more often than not, caring for another.
Liliana’s father’s “time-traveling” ability may be a characteristic shared by others with the condition. Alzheimer’s affects memory, thinking function, and behavior; its symptoms, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, eventually become severe enough and further compromise the living of everyday life, at which point coping mechanisms are necessary.
Globally, around 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While there is no known cure, there are several pharmaceutical and nonpharmaceutical options that may help the individual, and their caregivers, to cope with the symptoms. And traveling through time may very well be one of them.
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