I was struggling a bit this morning as I continued my Christmas shopping. It was time for me to find something to give my dad but the more I shopped, the more upset I got. I was literally nauseous. Everywhere I looked, it seemed that nothing was right. I would think, "Well, he doesn't need that," or "He won't know what to do that with that now," or "That won't bring him comfort or joy." For the millionth time since our family realized he had Alzheimer's, I questioned, "Why? What is the purpose of this hideous disease? Why my dad?"
Then I thought back on my trip to Alabama last week and how, despite his confusion and fear and lack of coherency, he still taught me lessons.
We awoke one morning and ran into each other in the hall and for the first time, he had no idea who I was. I have feared this for quite some time. But in the midst of it, I didn't realize that, rather than feeling hurt and forgotten, I would feel compassion for him who was afraid in that moment. When it dawned on him who I was, he was so upset, and I just thanked God for taking away that memory as quickly as He could.
A couple of days later, we went to church together. Mama was directing her choir that night so it was just me and Daddy. You have to understand that he looks to Mama for everything...she is the barometer by which he conducts himself. So to say that I was a bit nervous to be responsible for him alone - when I know that he relies on her for social cues, answers to questions and his own wants and needs - is a huge understatement. I felt we were doing really well together, and we talked on the way home from church about having ice cream when we got there. But it was clear when we walked in that Daddy was agitated. He was able to communicate this to me, and I asked if he wanted to pray together. He said, "I think that would be a good idea." But when I went to do so, it was apparent his anxiety would not allow him to focus. We had to fix the cause of it.
I won't go into the problem as it was personal but suffice it to say that, much like him forgetting me in the hallway, we reached another milestone - a first that we had to experience together with this dreaded disease. It was challenging to come up with a solution, but we worked together and communicated the whole time so we were both at ease. At the end of our incident, I said to Daddy, "OK, pray? Or ice cream?" He asked, "What are those two again?" I repeated, "Pray? Or ice cream?" He exhaled, "Pray."
So we together sat in his room, he in the rocking chair and I beside him, holding his hand and channeling my inner evangelical preacher. (I'm so very not Catholic in my extemporaneous prayer skills!) When I finished praying with Daddy, he proclaimed, "Amen," then gave me a sideways look and said, "Good job." Coming from one of my favorite preachers of all time, I felt pretty humbled by that comment! I said in reply, "Thank you. Now let's go get ice cream." And we did.
So in these moments of sorrow and doubt, I recall the very important lesson my father taught me while home. Even in his most confused, most anxious, most agitated, most vulnerable state, he chose to pray. Before crying...before getting angry...before feeling abashed...even before ice cream, he chose to pray. And now I must take his beautiful lesson forward with me each day and live with that dictate as my guide...in order to honor him, to remember him as he was, to lift him up - and in doing so, lift myself and those around me as well.