Yesterday I had the incredible privilege of singing at a memorial service for a great man – Marvin. He had a full life, but in his later years suffered from Alzheimers. Many of you know that my dad experienced the same journey. Most days, I don’t really let myself go back and reflect on all the pain of Alzheimers – I just refuse to go there. But yesterday, I couldn’t help it. The memories came flooding back and I realized that sometimes, I have to be willing to go there. Why, because it also brings back to mine the many ways that God sustained me (and my family) through that time.
As I listened to the eulogy for Marvin, I was touched deeply. I was really moved as I watched his wife of over 60 years lean in to the wonderful spoken words, drinking in the memories of life before Alzheimers. When you walk through Alzheimers with someone – the memories of normal life are stolen from you for a while. It’s hard because you become so focused on the daily decline that you often can’t recall when life was normal. Margie, his wife, was dedicated to Marvin, gently caring for him to the very end. She joins my mom as a hero in my eyes. I remember watching my mom – who experienced the agony of Alzheimers the deepest for sure as she lost her life companion, lover, best friend and confidant – gracefully walk beside my Dad, determined to give him the best care and also to fill his life with love and joy as much as was possible. He was always tender with my mom when she was around. It was something beautiful to see.
It’s overwhelming. But then I remembered the God moments. Very generously sprinkled throughout the journey. The times I would come and see my Dad just holding his Bible – a look of deep contentment in his eyes. He didn’t know us, but he knew the Lord! What a comfort to see the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us played out in my Dad’s life. Though his ability to connect with the rest of us faded, I KNOW that he had a connection with the Lord throughout his cloudy Alzheimers journey.
Or I remember when he couldn’t speak to us, I’d hear him sometimes humming a hymn. Again, knowing that somehow in ways we can’t understand, God was still sustaining him.
I also remember that in the earlier stages where he could still communicate – but would tell the same things to us over and over – he would often be fixated on something of God’s creation. The beauty of an eagle’s flight – the majesty of the mountains – or the whispers of the wind as it whipped through the tall trees that lined the soccer field that we’d walk together when my dad was tired of watching the games and just needed a break. If I close my eyes, I can feel my arm linked with his, and that comfortable warm feeling of just being together with him.
Now that the intensity of Alzheimers isn’t here anymore and I know my Dad is fully restored, enjoying the amazing mysteries of heaven, I’m beginning to be gifted with great memories of the times in my life with my Dad before Alzheimers began to steal him away. I remember his love of music and the record albums he would play in the evenings – sitting back on the couch in his jeans and white t-shirts at the end of a day, simply listening and enjoying the music. Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, the Christy Minstrels, and all kinds of other music that seemed really goofy to me, but now I crave hearing it because it reminds me of my dad.
Yes, I miss my dad terribly. It’s been nearly five years since he went to heaven – almost 15 years from the beginning of his Alzheimers journey. You don’t get to choose what happens in life sometimes. You have to just go through it. But, I am a living testimony to the fact that God is really very present in these times. It’s a great opportunity to lean in and experience His promises.