When you finally get the news, you hope you’ll be ready. You never know until the moment arrives, until you’re finally confronted with the long-awaited reality.
A few weeks ago, my mom called to tell me that my father’s long fight with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s was coming to an end. Seven years of fading memories, of weight loss, of slow death. Seven years of decline, then plateau, then sharp decline again. Seven years of stooping shoulders, trembling hands, increasingly vacant eyes. It was finally coming to an end.
Memories of a Happy Father
He wasn’t always like that. In the weeks since my father’s passing, I’ve seen pictures and watched old videos. They’ve rekindled my memory of my father whole, before he grew dim and faded from the world. You can see the brightness in his eyes in every picture, the sly smile that told you he had a one-liner he was about to use on you, the ease with which he engaged with everyone around him.
He gave me my first experience of true masculinity. Whether he was up early preparing breakfast or up late doing dishes, he embodied the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility that is the mark of manhood.
Seeing those pictures reminded me of the dad I’d lost: present and active, engaged and unashamed of his sons, happy and self-forgetful. When I say, “Be the smile of God to your children,” my mind can’t help but recall his smile, his presence, his laughter. I miss him.
Living Beneath Death’s Dark Shadow
In the end, my dad wasn’t laughing. His eyes were half-closed, his body twisted by the wasting disease, his mouth open, his breathing labored. Death is ugly. There is nothing romantic about it. Our instinctive recoil when we see it up close reminds us that it’s unnatural, that it’s a curse. We were made to live, even if, because of sin, we are born to die.
When I got the call from my mom, I was reminded that Death casts a long shadow. I could feel it coming to rest over my house, over my family. Like dark clouds of gloom and despair, it settled into the air of my home, suffocating us with the stench of its unstoppable reality.
Written by Joe Rigney
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