We Never Said Good-bye
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I was prepared. "Dad's changed," my brother said, "you won't
recognize him. It's been four months since he's known any of us."
I took a deep breath and waited while the door was unlocked. I crept
into the Alzheimer's unit and heard the door click behind me. The
smell of stale urine and feces made me nauseous. Against the wall on
my left loomed a tall glass cage. Noisy finches bounced from branch
to branch like miniature acrobats in a circus. No one watched. It
was dinnertime. I studied the rows of blank faces struggling to act
normal. Two elderly women wrestled over a small piece of bread. No
one broke up the fight. I looked at the faces again but didn't see my
dad. He's not here, I told my brother. Maybe he's in his room. "He's
here. Look again." I studied the faces more carefully. At the end of
the nearest table sat an old man in a wheelchair, the shrunken remnants
of a man not much more than 100 lbs. He wore baggy sweats and white socks
without slippers. A red baseball cap was pulled down over his eyes. Dad! Could that be him? "Yes, that's Dad." Where's his glasses? His slippers?
"Someone took them. It happens all the time. They got his dentures and his favorite stuffed animal too." Stuffed animal? "He's a child again." Why
is he wearing a mustache? He hasn't had one of those since he was in the navy. "He thought he was back in the war. Now he's forgotten the war and
the mustache. "Dad! What's happened to you? Should I interrupt his meal? "It doesn't matter," my brother said, "he won't know the difference." I walked up to the table and gently put my hand on his shoulder. He looked at me and gasped. His eyes opened wide. "Bill," he said hugging me around the
neck. "Bill!" He knew me! I tried to hold back the tears but couldn't. My dad squeezed me tighter and patted me on the back. He tried to speak, to turn his thoughts into words but he had forgotten how. He looked ashamed and confused. I knew what he was trying to say and it was all right. He took
off his red baseball cap and pointed to the one on my head. I gave it to him. He smiled and put my cap on his head. After a few adjustments he seemed satisfied with the fit and then gave me his. He smiled, hugged me again and
went back to his dinner. I was forgotten. The enemy that had invaded his
brain locked him inside again and would never let him out a second time. But it was enough. God's grace is always sufficient. My dad had recognized me. We hugged. We spent time together. We just never said 'good-bye. I watched him finish his dinner. Dad dipped a plastic fork into a glass of grape Kool-
Aid and slipped it carefully into his mouth. He looked perplexed but dipped his fork again. He smacked his lips satisfied. I watched as long as I could then patted him on the shoulder one last time. He looked at me puzzled. I wanted to leave. His dinner was over. It was time for his diaper
change and bed. I wanted to hug him again but I was a stranger now. The phone call came a week later. "Dad's gone," they said. Dad was gone long before this, I thought. Someday I'll see him again and let him know it was all right. I think of him often still and wonder if he remembers now, that
we never said good-bye.
In Memory of my Dad
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Wow. Lots of emotion in such a short read. Many of us can relate. Such deep sadness, anger, the feeling of helplessness in watching a loved one waste away. Great work.
Watching a strong, resilient parent become a helpless child is a very painful process. There are many ways to say, "goodbye". Perhaps just being there...seeing the momentary recognition in your father's eyes...exchanging gifts...maybe saying "hello" was more enduring than saying "goodbye". Bless you. Great piece of yourself!
This is so sad, yet beautiful. God was so gracious to allow him to recognize you one last time. And the cap is certainly a treasure since it was his. May God's blessings be upon you.