My mother-in-law shares her birthday with my grandson, Christopher. He is her first great grandchild, so that makes it even more special. This is an honor her mother also got to share with Christopher’s mother, my daughter Corrie. It is an unusual statistic indeed. My mother-in-law turned 80 years old today, but if you ask her, she is 65. You see, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease, and she often lives in her own little world.
On any given day, if you ask her what she did that day, you will get a variety of answers, from doing laundry or other household chores to going to work. This is the really odd one, because she never held a job outside the home. Still, she thinks she worked in an insurance agency. Probably because I am an insurance agent. She thinks she works at a school, but I’m not sure where that one came from since we have no teachers in the family. She has also told us that she babysits on occasion, and we are pretty sure she thinks she is watching her granddaughters, as it has been girls and the only girls of that age don’t live here. I have found that the best thing to do is go along with the stories she comes up with, but some of them really take me by surprise, making it difficult to come up with a good answer in the conversation.
Sometimes she gets a little frustrated when we tell her it is time for bed. She always thinks it is too early. By the time we finally get her up, she is mad at everyone for “being so ornery” to her. That is the bad part. The good part is that by the time she is in bed, she is back to her sweet self and thanking you for getting her to bed, because she doesn’t remember that she was mad at you, not 10 minutes ago. I have been told that many Alzheimer’s patients are aggressive, and I am thankful that, at least up to this point, she is not one of them. Very little bothers her, and in reality the only things are exercise and bedtime. Oh, to have that be my biggest problem.
A sad side to Alzheimer’s Disease is that every once in a while, she gets an inkling of the fact that she should be able to remember some things, and when she can’t, she asks, “What is wrong with me?” That is so hard to take. It makes me want to cry for her, and her situation of moments lost. She still has many of her memories of the distant past, but she doesn’t always have her present life. From one moment to the next, something happens, and then for her it is gone. She doesn’t know that her younger son got married in June. She doesn’t realize that her grandchildren are grown adults…moments lost.
Having been a caregiver since October of 2005, I find myself coming face to face more and more often with the Winter of life. It is the time in someones life, when they have far fewer days in front of them that they have behind them, and in many ways, I find that sad…especially when it is my parents or in-laws that I am talking about. I understand…all too well…that life on this earth is finite, and that we will all leave here one day, but still, it is hard to face that day as it applies to my parents, in-laws, grandparents and other loved ones in my life. I guess I just don’t like change very much and especially when it means having a loved one get old and leave this life.
Change is, unfortunately, inevitable, and their is nothing we can do to stop it, or slow it down even. Like the seasons, life has a cycle that cannot be changed. Like Spring, bringing newness to the Earth, birth is also a new beginning, and young life. Summer is the youth and young adulthood, Fall is middle age, and finally, we arrive at Winter, bring late life and finally death. I have never liked Winter in any form…be it weather or life cycle. It is a depressing time to me that always feels sad.
The only consolation is that we have the promise of eternal life in Heaven, and I know that I will see my dad again. It was never about a lack of belief that I will see him again…it is more about the wait for Spring…eternal life, that seems so long. When we are the ones left behind, the wait seems to take forever. I’m not in a hurry to leave this Earth, I just wish that the getting to Heaven could be sooner. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but that is exactly how I feel about the Winter of life.
The loss of a loved one always seems like the end of the world as we know it. So often we wonder how everyone can just continue to go on doing all the things they normally do, doing new things, smiling, laughing…living when life for your loved one is over…at least in this world. After my dad passed away, I found myself feeling like something was terribly wrong in the world, because my dad was no longer here. It almost felt like his life had been put on hold, but that wasn’t it exactly either. For a time, I tried to picture Heaven, and what my dad must be doing, and while we all do that on occasion, I know that our idea of Heaven is like poverty compared to what Heaven really is. What comes to my mind most now is almost like a different dimension…like they are floating somewhere above us in an alternate universe.
No matter where or how I picture my dad, I simply can’t envision him back here on earth with us. I can see him, in my mind, when he was here, but not going forward from that last moment on December 12, 2007 at 12:00pm. My mind simply cannot convince itself that he is here, and that is the thing that breaks my heart so badly. So, where do I go from here? How do I heal from that? Does the pain get to be less and less over time? I almost don’t want to think that it does, because that would mean that I have accepted what has happened, and I don’t want to do that.
I was watching the show, “Touched By An Angel” the other day, and there was a young man going through exactly what I have been going through since my Dad’s passing. On the show, an old man who had been his dad’s butler, gave the best advice I have ever heard. When the young man asked him how he was supposed to get over the loss of his dad, the old butler said, “You never get over it…you just get on with it.” Truer words were never spoken. You can’t get over a loved on like to do a cold or the flu. You can’t go on like they had never existed. They were here, and they were a huge part of your life, and that has forever changed you. You are who you are because of the influence they had on your life, as well as the influence of so many other people. You will never get over them, but you must move forward with your life. So that is what I must begin to do now. Not to get over my dad, or his death, but to get on with…life, just as he would have wanted me and all of his family to do. Thank you, Dad, for all you did to prepare us for life…I love you Dad!!
My Dad passed away 3 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him terribly. So much so, that many times it is hard to speak or think of him without tears. He was like the main trunk of a tree, and we, his family the branches. While the tree can come back from the roots if the trunk is cut down, it takes a long time to do so. Yes, we have all gone on with life, just as Dad would have wanted us to do, taking care of our Mom, and hoping that we do so in such a way as to make Dad proud, but there is something missing, and a huge gaping hole in the middle of our lives that we can’t seem to fill. My Dad is irreplaceable.
Dad was a World War II veteran, and like many of those men, he rarely talked about those years, choosing instead to move on with life. He was the Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer on a B-17 Bomber. He was credited with shooting down 2 Japanese planes, and he saved the men on his plane when he hung upside down in the open bomb bay to hand crank the landing gear down when it was stuck and they couldn’t land. But, these were things he didn’t tell us about. My Mom would tell us later. It just wasn’t Dad’s way. To him, he just did his duty.
One of my Dad’s greatest loves, other than family, was the great outdoors. Dad wanted us to be able to see as much of our great country as possible. We have camped out in many places, and seen almost every state. There have been funny times, like making my Dad get up to put another log on the fire, because we thought there might be bears in the area, one of the joys of camping with 5 daughters, I guess. My Dad was a brave man. And of course, he had to get every moth away from us, because they might be “deadly” or something. He was so patient. He just took our craziness is stride. When I think back on those years, I can’t help but laugh at how goofy my sisters and I were. Dad just had a way of making things fun, no matter what came up.
One of Dad’s all time favorite travel destinations was the Black Hills. Because it was close to Wyoming, and there was so much to do there, we went often. I’m sure that is where my love of the Black Hills came from. He showed us many fun things to do there, and well, from there my love for it just grew. When I am in the Black Hills, I always feel like I can hear “echos” of my Dad, because there are so many wonderful memories there.
Another thing my Dad was very good at is problem solving. Whenever any of us needed help with something, Dad could always be counted on come up with a solution. He was the strength of our family, no matter what. I can still hear him saying, “This is what we are going to do.” And you just knew everything was going to be alright.
Dad, you taught us many lessons of life through the years, and you made life fun. Your words and laughter will always echo in my memory. I will miss you until the day I see you again in Heaven. Thank you Daddy for being the greatest Dad ever!! I love you so much…and Forever!!