It had been a year since I was last able to visit my father. I wondered if he would remember who I was. Eighteen months ago his deteriorating condition from Alzheimer’s made caring for him at home impossible and he now lived in a full-care facility. I live in Texas which makes the trip to Conn. to visit him difficult.
While my sister stopped at the reception desk to sign in, I went looking for Dad, expecting to find him in his room. He wasn’t there but later I found him in the sunlight-filled library. It was a logical place to look since I knew how much he loved books. He looked up from the book spread before him and I saw puzzlement come into his eyes. He sensed he should know me; that I was someone whom he should be familiar with. Yet even though he couldn’t label this person standing before him, he didn’t become anxious.
We exchanged polite conversation for twenty minutes or so. All the while, I noticed how he sent piercing glances my way as if to spot some clue that would solve the puzzle. I could almost see the atoms scurrying about in his brain as they ducked into one memory-filled section after another, trying to find my identification label.
Then the sudden remembrance entered his eyes. His face spread into a welcoming grin and a series of questions erupted: “How’s the family?” “How are you?” “When did you get here?” “How long you staying?”
I answered each in turn, realizing these questions helped him solidify his grasp of reality. Never mind that each time I visited, whether days or weeks had passed, he would repeat his I-don’t-see-you-very-often kind of welcome as if it was the first time. He joked about my head of gray forgetting it had been that way for several years. I told him Diana was also here and we left to find her. I picked up his forgotten cane which he had left hooked over the back of his chair.
When I suggested getting a breath of fresh air, he zipped up his lined jacket before stepping out into the enclosed garden. We took a turn around, a dozen steps or so, then paused to sit on a convenient iron bench. A breath of wind teased his white locks. Within minutes he was clutching his collar closer even though the sun was warm on our faces. I caught the shiver he tried to hide. “We’d better get back inside before you catch cold,” I said.
We met Diana in the hall. My father hooked one hand in each daughter’s arm and we matched our steps to his faltering ones. As we shuffled along the facility’s corridor, he would stop often to introduce me as “his daughter from Texas” to every passing attendant and nurse. He stopped to pat the hand of an elderly woman in a wheelchair. “How are you today?” he asked before moving on as if he knew she couldn’t respond. “Sometimes you just have to do the little things,” he said to me, embarrassment forcing an explanation.
As we pass a recreation room, I glanced in and caught sight of solitary woman seated beside a window, golden sunlight flooding the card game of solitaire she played. She never looked up. I wondered at her concentration in the midst of this constant activity. Perhaps she, like my father, had learned to draw on the peace within.
Poet Dylan Thomas advises in his familiar poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But what if your life’s journeying is not leading you into a fearsome blackness, a deep blank of unknown to struggle against? What if instead, you find yourself moving toward a light, a light that grows brighter the closer you approach? Shouldn’t that be the experience of every Christian who take that walk from this life into eternity?
I sense this is my father’s experience. As time passes and he draws closer to the source of the light, it’s as if the trappings and necessities of his human existence loses significance and falls away. Those activities and involvements that drove or maintained purpose for so much of his life seem to have lost importance and have simply faded away. The closer he gets to the light at the end of his life, the more the “hay and stubble” of his life is erased from his memories.
I’m not disturbed by it. I recognize my father is at the end of his life’s journey. The light which fills his days with so much peace and joy erases the imperative to hold on to yesterday, even the immediate past. He no longer has to concern himself with temporary matters. My father lives in the now and is content.