Dad passed away a month ago, August 14th. It was expected, yet unexpected. He had gradually declined from Alzheimer's for several years, but he also had months where he had more significant decline and then he would plateau for awhile.
For Father's Day, my sister had taken him out to a Cirque du Soleil performance and they had a wonderful time. It was not easy because his mobility wasn't what it used to be, but they were able make it up and down stairs and he enjoyed the performance. Less than two weeks later, we were getting calls while we were on vacation in Michigan that he was experiencing a lot of confusion and having balance problems.
By the time I went out to see him a week later he was unable to walk, wasn't able to feed himself, and pretty much didn't recognize me. He started receiving hospice care. We were told that he may have had a silent stroke. But as the week went on, he slowly started getting better. By the end of the week, he was still in a wheel chair but in pretty good spirits. He knew who I was and we had delightful conversations. Of course, I was thankful for the improvement, but the emotional strain of the week on my sister and me was intense -- such ups and downs.
I traveled back home, and then a week and a half later our whole family returned to Denver for my niece's wedding. Dad was doing much better, and Marc and the kids had a wonderful, but short, visit with him. He was still in a wheelchair, but he recognized our whole family and was delighted to see everyone. After the wedding we went back home and started getting ready for the new school year.
At church that next Sunday, I told people I thought my dad was experiencing another plateau and I didn't think anything was imminent. I thought it might be several months. Two days later I received a call that it was time to come back to Denver. Dad's body was just shutting down. My sister and I spent the next few days at his side. He was not responsive, but we spent the time sorting through pictures and retelling and remembering all the stories of our growing up years.
As a follower of this blog, you must know by now that I'm a visual person and that photos are important to me, but I don't think even I realized just how important they would be this past month. With Alzheimer's you start saying your good-byes long before your loved one is actually gone. Every time I left Denver I wondered if it was the last time I'd see my dad, even if he was doing well. Because he had a more aggressive form of Alzheimer's, we knew things could go downhill pretty quickly. So it wasn't the good-bye that was so hard. God gave me so much peace through it all (and I do mean it came completely from God, because my natural tendency in any stressful situation is panic, pity, and worry). This time I had no doubt God was in control every moment. But the hurt was still hard. Because my mom passed away ten years ago, this was the end of an era. The day before my dad passed away would have been their 49th wedding anniversary. Going through the photos reminded me of how blessed our family was, and my heart started to heal. My parents didn't get to live deep into their retirement years, but they lived their adventure from day one. My sister and I had an amazing childhood. So many good memories.
The week following Dad's death, I worked on a photo slideshow for the service that was a tribute mostly to Dad's life, but also Mom's. I'm not posting the slideshow on the blog because it's long and we didn't want it on youtube, but the above are just some of the pictures I used (some of the above weren't included in the slideshow, but I thought my kids might like to see a few more of their grandpa and mom together). Everything about Dad's service felt so perfect and brought such peaceful closure. For ten years I struggled with my memories of Mom being clouded by the awfulness of brain cancer, and I feared that my memories of Dad would likewise always be framed by Alzheimer's. But after spending hours and hours putting together the slideshow and then watching it at least 20 times since then (and counting, because I still watch it almost daily), my mind is now filled with images of happy times and wonderful memories of them both. We weren't perfect, and there were still hard times, but it all comes together to form the story of our family -- a story I will always treasure.
I could write so much more, but just know that God was good to my dad, and God used my dad to bring a lot of people joy.
God is good.