“Let’s make it real big.”
“Okay, Dad, we’ll make it really big.”
I enter the security code on the electronic lock, take his hand and lead him out the door for a walk around the fenced-in back yard of the memory care center.
We make it “really big” by slowly shuffling three times around, hand in hand. He never lets go. My hand is a lifeline for staying on the paved path and getting back inside the building.
Conversation is no longer possible. My questions get answered simply, if understood, or in unrelated incoherence if not. We move in silence most of the time. But then, we always did.
There never was much meaningful conversation between us even when it was possible. Decades of unspoken words and muted emotions from the middle child with more than her fair share of daddy issues.
The shuffling slows.
“Are you getting tired, Dad?”
“Okay, let’s sit over here and rest.”
We make our way to a cushioned bench. He can still sit with little help, but getting into bed escapes him without step-by-step instructions. He can still put food in, but no longer controls when or where it comes out. My father, the guy who taught me how to hit a pitch thrown high and inside, would despise wearing a diaper, but the man sitting next to me is blissfully unaware.
I look skyward, watch the wind transport the clouds and wonder how bearing witness to this slow death will work to my, or anyone’s, good. My faith assures me it will. My life experience confirms it. I’ll wait and see.
Dad looks at the grass and tells me something, but the words strung together are meaningless. I listen anyway and offer encouragement to keep him talking as best I can.
My father’s travels end here. The last leg of his life’s journey swallowed up by Alzheimer’s. This is the real zombie apocalypse — millions of people encased in brain plaque.
I look at my watch. Almost lunch time.
“Dad, are you hungry?”
“I am a little bit.”
“Okay, let’s go inside and get you some lunch.”
I help him up, this once strong man who could lift the six-year-old me over his head with one hand. I remember the muscled biceps and pecs forged through years of physical labor. The work began as a child, the son of a sharecropper, plowing tobacco fields behind a mule before he was even 10-years-old.
I can still feel the calluses from all his labors as my father links his fingers in mine. We turn toward the door. By the time we reach it, he won’t remember why we’re going inside. I’ll remind him. And as I put the ranch dressing on his salad, I’ll remind him that it’s his favorite.
Holding my father’s hand, it occurs to me that this moment will join a lifetime of other moments, good and bad, that I share with this man. Perhaps all those moments will work to my good by reminding me that my father loved me.
I love him.
Love is not forgotten. It abides forever.