Lately I've been thinking a LOT about things I would change, if given the power. That pesky, olive-drab carpet that came with my circa 1971 house? Poof!
Gone, replaced with lovely hardwoods. Cost? Zippo. The giant, overgrown crime-against-nature "natural area" in our backyard? Poof! Instantly, it's a lovely, weed-free garden, bursting with FREE organic tomatoes, blueberries and Dove dark chocolate bars (it's MY fantasy, OK?)
But the biggest, most important thing I would make disappear is the cruel, ugly, heartless disease that keeps stealing bits and pieces of the one thing that really, really mattered to my father. His mind. More specifically, his memory.
I can barely bring myself to use the A-word---this thing is too hideous to have such an innocent name. It doesn't deserve one. One name doesn't remotely encompass how cruel this thing is. It steals from people who deserve everything---people like my dad, who are generous, dry-witted, hard-working and capable. It doesn't care who it hurts. And so it hurts everyone. The grandchildren who don't understand, the grown children who ache for their lost parent, the friends who miss their old pal, even when he's sitting right next to them.
It's taken me months and months to realize that, unlike the carpet or the state of my lawn, this thing that's stealing my dad from me is beyond my reach. I can't totally defeat it, even though the medication that he takes can soothe the edges a bit. I needed help, and so did the extended family members who'd been caring for him back home.
My dad recently moved into an assisted living facility about two miles from my house. The experience has not exactly been smooth, but I dare say it's getting a bit less rocky. We have a private aide who comes in each day to help him get acclimated. J does everything from kindly coaxing my dad to take a shower and shave in the mornings to driving him out for ice cream in the afternoons. The other day I asked if he minded bringing my dad to meet me for lunch at a favorite seafood place.
He obliged, and even though all through the meal my dad kept calling J by the wrong name (he seems to think he's an old co-worker buddy of his) I was relieved to see he's finally treating him like a friend instead of an ever-present annoyance.
About an hour later, as I was driving back to work, I found myself wiping away tears. Again. Not an uncommon occurance for me these days, but this time something was different. I felt weird. What was it? Then it hit me. They were tears of joy. All I'd prayed for in recent weeks, if God couldn't take away this illness, was for Him to grant my dad some precious moments of peace and contentment. For so long, I'd felt my prayers had gone unanswered. But for a few splendid moments, as my dad ate his hushpuppies and smiled at me while I told him about Nate's baseball game, there it was. I recognized it. Peace.
He still has his bad days, and I'm sure there are many more to come, unfortunately. But now, I don't feel so alone anymore. And more importantly, neither does my dad.