This past Sunday I visited my dad in his dementia care facility in Atlanta. As I walked in, I found him in the common room sitting upright with a dazed look on his face. Next to an elderly woman, he was watching a shoot-'em-up 70s Charles Bronson movie, something he normally would never do.
As Dad is in the late stages of Alzheimer's, I always have to introduce myself, so I gave him my common greeting: "I'm Scott, your youngest and favorite and best looking son!" Such a response usually brings forth a snicker from Dad, but not this day. He seemed more troubled, even more confused. He mumbled an unintelligible response.
I engaged Dad in conversation, struggling through some small talk. I made him a bag of popcorn, which he voraciously devoured. I then suggested we go for a walk. I helped him up, took his hand, and began to slowly walk him down the hall. We headed for his bedroom. Upon arrival, he seemed fatigued, so I suggested I put him into his bed. I helped him remove his jacket, took off his shoes, laid him down, and put a pillow under both his head and his knees. As we continued to talk softly, it was as if Dad was speaking a foreign language. Doggoneit, this disease has not only ravaged his memory, but now also at times his speaking.
I held Dad's hand as he lay down and began to fall into a deep slumber. I found myself speaking tenderly to him, lulling him to sleep, as I recall doing with my own children when they were very small. Only this time, I don't even think Dad could distinguish me from one of the nurses. When it seemed like he was clearly asleep, I got up to leave. My parting words I softly spoke were, "Love you, Dad."
And in an amazing moment, as if to stir momentarily from both his slumber and his incoherence without even opening his eyes, Dad clearly spoke back, "Love you, Son." So much beauty and so much pain all in one encounter.
As I left his room that day misty-eyed, I was bemoaning the loss of my dad, as he succumbs to an ugly disease that is slowly ravaging each lobe of his brain. At the same time, however, I was also celebrating the memory of who he was as well as the small remnant of who he still is.
In the midst of all the pain that life brings, may we celebrate the places of joy in our lives and never let go of that deep, abiding hope that someday soon as God's kingdom comes, there will be no more death, no more pain, no more heartache, no more Alzheimer's. Thanks be to God.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, O God, for the love that binds us all together and makes us family. Even in the midst of the pain, may we celebrate that indeed, joy comes in the morning. Amen.