Barber shop visit opens unexpected door to the past. (Chris Wilkinson photo)

Talking about dementia is different when your own family is involved

Wilkinson shares a special story about his own father

For nearly 12 years I’ve been writing a monthly column about practising intelligent aging, and, really, Happier Aging. Many of my pieces have focuses on aging parents. And dementia. And now it’s my turn. My dad has recently been diagnosed with dementia and it’s progressing rapidly. It’s sad for us, yet we must show up and be the best we can be for dad at this challenging time.

Over the past two years my dad has been experiencing a slow and steady decline in his memory and cognitive function. Then in December, seemingly without a specific event, he declined rapidly. Just nine short months ago he was driving and shopping on his own, paying bills, visiting with family for barbecues and social gatherings. Fast forward to now and he is being considered for complex care placement in a nursing home. Yet I cannot accept that being the best fit for him at this time. He’s still doing OK at home, where he wants to be. He does still eat when he’s supposed to eat. And he’s getting out of the house a few times a week with me or a neighbour. And he doesn’t turn on anything unsafe that he’s not supposed to.

Balancing a parent with dementia with the other daily rigours of running two businesses, single-parenting two teenage boys, and trying get daily exercise, it’s a big time challenge. Something will probably have to give. Trying to keep perspective and patience with dad when he does things like locking himself out of his bathroom a couple times in a week is trying. Or, I can look at it with a different perspective. The long-term ‘after it’s all said and done’ perspective. After all is said and done, I will be very proud of the time I spend with dad as he is declining. Which is certainly what I have recommended to others. It’s rewarding to help dad. Everyone who knows him loves my dad. He’s got a huge heart and has always been a genuine customer service guy with his businesses.

I have a beautiful story I would like to share with you about my dad that happened last week.

After an appointment in downtown Duncan, we were walking through the gravel alley connecting Ingram to Kenneth — alongside the can’t-miss ‘Green Door’ heritage building — when I spot a barber’s pole. It caught my eye immediately because it wasn’t one hour earlier dad and I were talking about how he needed a haircut soon. He was starting to look a little disheveled. I did not expect to see a barber shop in the Green Door building. Yet it pulled me like a magnet in that direction immediately.

I quickly prompted dad, “Hey, why don’t we check out this barber shop?” Dad was agreeable. So we walked to the outside corner door and in we went. We were greeted by the warmest hello you could imagine. A barber with the crafted mustache you might expect from a gentleman who’s a barber. Darrell is his name. He greets my dad and sits him in his refurbished 1961 barber chair that his grandfather and father used generations before. Darrell immediately had my dad feeling comfortable with his gentlemanly banter and before you knew it, dad was looking like a million! And feeling like a million! Yet the real magic was just about to happen.

Dad spent nearly 50 years running businesses and the bulk of that time was in ‘business machines’. In the earlier days it was primarily cash registers. Well wouldn’t you know it, when we go to pay for the amazing service, there’s this old classic National cash register sitting on Darrell’s counter. It’s a beauty! Nearly two feet wide and about the same height, with many multicoloured buttons, the numbers at the top display that roll over and suddenly stop on the total. And the crank handle on the side to bring this masterpiece all together. Must be 100 lbs or more by looking at it!

Immediately dad went back in to ‘business machines’ mode. He knew it was a National brand cash register right away. Once Darrell found out about dad’s past in business machines, he offered a closer look. Dad went up to it and just admired it. He placed his right hand on it to refresh that memory of how it felt to handle the classic register. He appeared to have the look of respect and nostalgia in his eye. It’s still hard for me to put into words what that moment felt like for me to watch my dad light up like that. He was back to the ‘old days’ in that moment.

With one final salute and farewell, dad and I were off to trek home as Darrell was about to close up his nostalgic, almost completely antique, shop.

On the drive home dad kept saying how great his haircut is and how friendly Darrell the barber is. I recall dad telling Darrell as we were walking out the door, “I’ll certainly be back.” Indeed, we will, Darrell. Thank you for the amazing haircut, cool nostalgic shop, and terrific service. Dad’s spirit needed that. I needed that. Find Darrell at 126 Ingram Street in the Green Door building, or on Facebook or Instagram as ‘The Cutthroat Barber’.

Chris Wilkinson is the Owner / GM for Nurse Next Door Home Care Services for Cowichan and central Vancouver Island. For more info visit or for questions or a free in-home Caring Consult call 250.748.4357, or email

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