My dad has Alzheimer’s or so we are told. It came on suddenly — sudden onset. Is that Alzheimer’s? I don’t know, but they, the medical powers that be, say so.
I am visiting Dad at his home this week in Virginia. Over the past year on the phone, his decline has been quite apparent. As he sits in front of me, I see a once robust man now quite frail and elderly.
Hey Dad, I remember the days when you had dark hair. I remember when you walked with your big strides along the beaches of Lake Huron, your skin tanned by the hot summer sun. I still hear your voice booming as you called after us kids to listen to you when we were misbehaving. I have many memories of you sitting at the kitchen table with all the grandkids in rapt attention as you spoke of the secrets of the universe.
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of generations past. Ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7 NAB)
I miss the simple things, like you reserving the plane ticket for me to come down for a visit. I remember us sight-seeing in the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia, where you live. I remember many things, and they are all just that: memories.
And now, I still think it odd that I find myself walking behind you, when you are not aware that I am there, to make sure you don’t fall and keep steady on your feet. This morning, while having my cup of coffee, you sat down next to me, looked at me, and attempted to button the top part of your shirt, with no success. You then started to play with the buttons of your cuff links on your sleeves. I watched you for a brief moment, with a million thoughts running through my mind … the most prominent one being, “I am going to button my dad’s shirt, because he is no longer able”. There was no emotion to that thought, just a subtle feeling of transitional shock.
People say you become your parents’ parent at some point in time. I am a baby boomer become sandwich generation. Last year my mother died very quickly of pancreatic cancer. This year my father is mostly healthy physically, yet lingers mentally, with a regressing backwards to a younger time and place.
“My son, be steadfast in honoring your father; do not grieve him as long as he lives. Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him; do not revile him because you are in your prime.” (Sirach 3:12-13 NAB)
Dad, I know you can hear me when I talk to you but sometimes I wonder how much of you is still aware. Where are you, Dad, inside of that body of yours? Is part of you asleep, your spirit dulled by the ravages of your disease? And now, walking beside you wondering if your next step will take you stumbling, I can’t help ponder the frailty of life and the journey we all must take. Our path may be short or may be a long one but the end result is always the same.
“What profit have we from all the toil which we toil at under the sun? One generation departs and another generation comes, but the world forever stays.” (Ecclesiastes 1:3-4 NAB)
Pondering and contemplating my thoughts turn toward God and the end of life; mine and yours Dad, and also that of all of my loved ones. Do we ever truly think about these things, our final destination? Where has our life taken us and what choices have we made in order to find ourselves where we are? Have we found the peace we seek?
Dad, your presence before me brings out many thoughts. I didn’t expect this. I assumed I was coming here for a visit with a different, though unspoken, outcome. So it is true … God uses many people, things, and situations to turn us towards our ultimate goal, Him.
“Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)