In my mind, Dad had already left us years ago, and what remained with us was just a body stuck on this earthly plane, while I hoped his spirit was free elsewhere.
In recent years, when people would ask how my dad was doing, they would often ask, “Does he even know who you are?” The answer was no, he did not. But that was okay, really. The truly sad thing was that he didn’t even know who he was.
Before he was moved to a nursing facility, Dad lived for forty-five years in a home he had built for his family, the house where I grew up. One day he was with my sister standing in his living room and he told her, “You know, I built a house just like this one.” It was difficult to realize that the man who had poured heart and soul into creating this beautiful home could not now even recognize his own handiwork.
I grieved his loss over the years of his illness, and somehow had the notion that his passing would just be a formality. But with his death, there have been some shifts for me. Good ones. I now have the comfort of knowing that he truly is free. The Alzheimer’s disease no longer has any hold on any part of him.
And I also now have had the opportunity to honor his life. At a memorial service this past weekend, friends and family gathered together to say goodbye to a man they remembered as honest, caring, generous, and full of enjoyment for life.
When the opportunity came for sharing stories about my dad, his younger brother (my uncle) recalled the driving lessons that Dad gave him when they were young. Dad advised my uncle to drive fast so that if there was ever an accident, he would be far away from it by the time it happened.
My brother recalled how, as a young boy, he noticed that Dad always politely stood up whenever a woman entered the room. He asked Dad why he did that, and Dad told him that a man should always rise when women enter a room because he never knows when he will need to run.
After my dad’s death, I was describing him to a friend of mine. I told her that Dad had been the kindest, most patient man I had ever known. My friend commented that that was a beautiful legacy for him to have left behind, a daughter who felt that way about her dad. A few days after that, my own daughter was talking about my dad, her grandfather. She used my exact words: “He was the kindest, most patient man I have ever known.” It seems his legacy has already spanned multiple generations.
I trust that Dad is in a place now where he remembers who he is and recognizes all that he has given his family simply by his example of a good and loving individual. He not only crafted a beautiful house to live in, he also crafted a beautiful life. The gentle soul will long outlive the ravaging disease. Just ask his granddaughters.