“We’re going to visit your great-grandfather, Belle!” Regular as clockwork, James picks me up on his monthly trip to the aged care hostel to visit my father, his grandfather. He often brings little Belle – the oldies love her and it gives her mother a much-appreciated break too. As I clamber into the car, Belle’s face breaks into a smile, melting my heart. “Look, Nanna….” Only two, she is already a real chatterbox.
Speeding along the freeway, I look up and catch James’ sky blue eyes in the mirror. His eyes are filled with love. “Watch the road!” I say, a trifle brusquely, averting his attention from the tears of happiness which have sprung, unbidden, to my eyes.
We walk into the residents’ lounge room. Spotting us, Dad’s faded blue eyes light up. “How lovely to see you! Who is the little girl?”
The initial pleasantries are over. My home baked fruitcake has been gratefully received. James and his grandfather settle into conversation. Perhaps ‘conversation’ isn’t quite the right word. James asks his grandfather something about steam trains, then listens to the monologue.
I sit with Belle, who chatters happily while playing with blocks. I gaze at her father, my son. Tall, fair hair rapidly thinning, leaning forward, he chooses to genuinely interest himself in all his grandfather has to say, though he’s heard it many times before. James certainly lives up to his namesake.
When younger, a more godly, widely respected citizen than Jim Mills could not be found. To me, ‘Jim’ was just ‘my Dad’. He could fix anything – broken toys, broken cars, even broken hearts. After James' father left, it was Dad who stepped in to be a role model to my son. After Mum went to glory, he moved into my home and remained there until the dementia set in.
My thoughts are rudely interrupted. “Wee wee, Nanna”. Belle’s voice is urgent, and I hurry her to a bathroom. Pulling down her trainer pants, I heap exuberant praise on her. Dad, however, has very poor bladder control these days.
Returning to ‘the men’, I find that the tea lady has been, leaving three cups of tea. “How about some fruit cake, Dad?” Easier said than done. There isn’t a knife to be found. Finally, I resort to the kitchen.
“Residents become clumsy and hurt themselves,” explains the chef. As a non-resident, I am loaned a blunt knife.
Returning victorious, knife in hand and four plates besides, I cut the cake. Dad tucks in, leaving a trail of crumbs. Belle gets a fruit bar instead, and sits with her ‘sippy cup’. Lovingly, I wipe the crumbs from Dad’s mouth and shirt. Suddenly, this tender moment is interrupted by an indignant howl.
“Belle, that is naughty!” James says in a calm but stern voice. “You are NEVER to touch knives. You know that.”
“Come on, sweetie, let’s take the knife back to the kitchen.” With a few disgruntled sniffs, we complete our errand. On our return, Belle starts pulling things out of the bag, throwing them around the room, refusing to pick them up. Exchanging a quick glance with her father, I start the process of explaining to Dad that we need to go. James does the same with his daughter.
“We’ll have McDonald’s on the way home, then a big sleep.” It helps to give plenty of explanation.
On our way out, I’m stopped by the unit manager. “Have you noticed that your father’s dementia is progressing? Some days he is obstinate, even naughty. He’s a dear man, and we’ll miss him, but it won’t be long before he’ll need more than hostel care.”
The truth hurts. Holding Belle, James puts his other arm around me. “It’ll be okay, Mum. God will look after him. And you too.”
Strange. I remember Dad saying something very similar when James was just a baby. I look at my son, now a father himself, and catch a glimpse of life from God’s perspective.
I can’t imagine how non-believers cope with watching loved ones age. Well might they say, “Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 NIV). Dad’s immediate future looks bleak, but beyond this life, there is a great hope. Every day brings him closer to receiving his imperishable glorious body.
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NIV). Thanks to Dad, the next few generations of our family are all fine Christian people. Belle will grow up knowing God too. What a legacy to leave!
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