João was born in Santa Rita do Sapucaí, State of Minas Gerais, in 1936. Firstborn, he had a sister, who passed away. At the age of 8, he lost his mother. The father remarried, having two more children. He worked in the fields from an early age, as a child. At the age of 17, he arrived in the countryside of São Paulo to live and work on a farm, where he met Maria, whom he married at the age of 29. They had 6 children - 1 man and 5 women. Since then, he has passed through small farms and ranches, planted - mainly beans, cotton and corn -, harvested, drove carts and tractors. When he managed to retire, he bought a house in Holambra, State of São Paulo, where he still lives with his daughter Paula, his son-in-law, two grandchildren and 4 dogs.
The wife died in 2010, due to heart problems. From 6 months to 1 year later, João became more forgetful and confused, with his condition gradually getting worse. Since 2011 he receives medical monitoring at the neurology clinic of a university hospital.
I met him in 2014, during a consultation. He sat in the chair with a watchful eye and a smile on his face, accompanied by Paula, the youngest daughter and his main caregiver. She said that, after her mother died, her father, who was badly shaken, began to show some worrying signs: forgetting the stove on, getting lost while riding the bus, having “strange behaviors”. He believed he was being chased by workers who were doing work near his house. João was communicative and in a good mood. He told the story of the persecution in detail, despite the disbelief of the listeners. Being a protestant, he noticed difficulty in reading the bible. At a certain point, he vented: “I'm sorry for one thing... I learned so much and forgot everything”.
When I went to visit him for the first time, I spent more than two hours talking to him and I was impressed by his narrative skills. João shared a large part of his life story - what life was like in the country, how it was to lose his mother at the age of 8, how he met his wife and, moved, how she died. He said he was very good at Math, he even took classes with an acquaintance, but, as he had already learned everything and had gotten better than the teacher, the classes eventually stopped. João also remembered recent events - he told me that he had fallen the day before. He appeared to be aware that he has "something" - "sometimes I mean to take a tool and I forget what it was, so I may have "a little branch" of Alzheimer's”. When I asked what that was, he said to me, "It's when people make no sense." At work, he has already put water on the tractor, instead of fuel. When I said goodbye, he held my hands tightly for a while. “It was a good talk”, and he invited me to visit again.
I returned 5 years later. And this time, I would see him almost every week, for 2 years. João was thinner, his hair was whiter, his forehead was more wrinkled. He no longer dressed, ate or showered by himself. The conversation no longer dragged on; the speech became garbled, almost incomprehensible. He did not tell the story of the persecution anymore. In the last consultation I participated in, he saw fish swimming between his feet and talked to his own reflection in the mirror, saying that "that man" was the most beautiful in the room. The smile and the strong handshake remained.
I took João - always accompanied by Paula - to several places: the small farm where he saw the tractor, the summer camp where he lived and worked for 12 years, which allowed him to remember the room in which he slept, the church where he and his wife went to for so many years, and the homes of all 6 children, some of which were close, and others were distant. I shared lunches, coffees, cakes, laughs, cries, jokes, outbursts, affection. I saw the reconciliation between father and son, in a hug that had never been given before.
Paula agreed to venture in these journeys with me and João, even though she knew how difficult it was to leave the house with her father. Sometimes it took him more than half an hour to get in and out of the car - the fear of falling stiffened his whole body - and one day he almost attacked a police officer who was trying to help. Paula, who left her job to dedicate herself to her father, witnessed João becoming aggressive with her, mistaking her for the maid, the missus, the mother, the wife - she was even sexually harassed by him. She, who had already cried hidden in the bathroom and wanted to disappear, was gradually learning to deal with the disease, realizing that a wave of hand can replace a word and that, when his pupil dilates, João is moved. She learned to exult at small, which seemed huge, victories. One day, she happily told me that her father had gotten out of bed alone and went to the bathroom, which he hadn't done in a year. Another time, I received the following message:
Something really cool happened. In the morning, I sat in bed with him, I went to pray with him. Then I started to pray, to say some things and he wanted to start crying, you know? I felt that he was comprehending the prayer that we were doing there, I felt that he was understanding that moment. It was so nice! It shows how strong his faith is, has always been; even with the disease, faith prevails.
And so, Paula and João are learning to tame fear in the face of such an uncertain disease, to transform it through faith, love, care.