What you don't know about me yet is that my dad, who to this day still holds his status as one of the smartest people that I've ever met, has Alzheimer's. As I am writing this, he has just returned home to die. He is 74 years old, which in one way means that he had a nice, long life, and in another way means that he was robbed of his golden years.
When the grandchildren started to arrive, he showed a goofier side of himself than he had when his own kids were young. He relished getting to be the silly grandad. He was content with his life.
About six years ago, after he was officially retired, he was still doing consulting work for his old company. When the work became too difficult, everyone chalked it up to an older person being confused by new technology. The real reason became apparent all too soon. Alzheimer's Disease was ravaging his brain.
Many people would have crumbled under such a diagnosis. Not my dad. He faced everyday with the same calm, bravery that he always had. He signed up for a study at Yale University, in the hopes that doctors could use his suffering for good, to help them help others someday. He gave us, his family, every bit of himself for as long as he could, remaining cheerful and loving even as his inner world was shrinking.
When his nightmares became for him a waking reality, and he could no longer function in the everyday world, he somehow summoned up a moment of clarity to tell my mother that he needed to go into a nursing home. True to the man he had always been, he put the welfare of his loved ones first.
Now he is returning to my mother's house, frailer and sicker. Hospice and an aide will help to care for him. Nobody knows how long he has left. It could be days, or it could be weeks or months.
Their house is a four hour drive from mine. I find myself in the painful position of trying to manage my full life here at home, and wanting to be there for him. I know that I am not alone in living far from my aging parents. I know that he is well cared for. It is just...hard.
I've reconciled myself to the fact that when he does take his last breath, I likely won't be at his side. I may be, but I might just as easily be driving down to see him, or teaching my children, or grocery shopping, or doing laundry. I just don't know.
I cry when my children aren't looking. Sometimes they catch me. They know that Grandad is sick, and my oldest knows how serious it is, but they're young. They don't know.
My faith is of great comfort now. As a Catholic, I believe that at the moment of death his soul will be free of his broken body. He will be at peace, which he has not been for a very long time. I want that for him, and I pray for his quick release from suffering. Yet, I will miss him everyday. I already do.