Dad is 81 years old. I’ve known him for 48 of those years. He was born during the Depression, grew up while World War II was going on, and thanks to his “friends and neighbors” he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He met and married a lovely woman and began a life together filled with joy, heartbreak, peace, turmoil, sickness and in health. Together they raised my brother and I. In 1990 my mom went to be with her Lord after a battle with ovarian cancer. Dad never remarried – he said he was afraid he’d compare Mom with his new bride and that was not fair to either ladies. I agree – it would not be fair to them, or to him. For most of his 81 years Dad was a pillar of strength for me; a towering example of fairness, discipline, laughter, and love.
I look at Dad today with a sorrow-filled heart. Dementia is beginning to set in and his strength failing rapidly. His short-term memory is failing. He often tells me the same stories of his childhood. I do not mind this. I know little of his side of the family. He spends hours poring over his high school year book, reminiscing about classmates who have passed on. Sometimes he will talk about his time in the army. He never talks about if he was in combat or not and I’ve never asked. Perhaps the memories are too painful, if so, I do not want to stir them again. I will continue to listen to his stories, though.
I do not feel 48 years old. Not in my heart. I do not think of him as being 82 years old until I actually see him. In my heart, he is still the young man who would lift me with his feet while he lay on his back (my favorite game) or playing a game of catch in the front yard. I close my eyes and I can see him at bat on the church softball team or sitting on the floor of the church nursery playing with the toddlers as they clambered all over him. I close my eyes and I can see him in the sound booth of the Sanctuary running the recorder for the Sunday service. I open my eyes and reality slaps me in the face.
His step is slower, less sure. His jeans no longer quite fit. His shirts hang loosely on his thin shoulders. He naps a lot now. He doesn’t get out as much anymore, even when I offer to drive him there.
It saddens me to see his failing health and I know he is not the immortal I once believed he was. Someone once said they didn’t suffer from dementia but enjoyed every moment of it. While I know they said this tongue in cheek, I think it is the loved ones around who do the suffering. I try to stay strong for Dad, I try to ensure his independence for as long as possible. Yet each day, when I call him in the morning, I’m afraid he won’t answer. I’m afraid that if I go over there to check on him he will have gone to join Mom in our Lord’s kingdom and I won’t have him anymore. I’m afraid….
Dad will be 82 in April. He says he wants to live to be 120. I hope he makes it. I am not ready to give him up yet.