It has been a while since I've seen my dad really smile. There have been a few times when he has given a slight sign of being amused, but no broad grins. His dementia and other health trials seem to have robbed him of the beautiful, toothy grin to which I have become accustomed after more than 4 decades of walking the earth as "Sam's Boy". It has been a faint shadow that one notices but can't quite place in the routine interactions with a loved one who is wrestling to maintain their wits in a brutal struggle to keep one's personality. I had almost given up that I would ever see his smile again until yesterday, when a number of events gave me renewed joy in the journey of walking with my father in this deeply shadowed valley.
It was a tough but good day. Lots of legwork in securing Dad's personal business - talking to banks, securing documents, running all over town. God is good and gave us much favor in our dealings. SO many I encountered had compassion born of walking in similar environs. We were able to secure a place for Dad in a wonderful State veterans facility in Fayetteville run by people with a heart for Veterans - An energetic, highly motivated, knowledgeable and extremely friendly admissions official whose own father is a veteran. This angel of mercy sees folks like Dad as part of her extended family. She views what she does not as a job, but as an opportunity for passionate service to those who have born the battle in their time of greatest vulnerability. We were also blessed to meet another angel - a statuesque, Wonder Woman look-a-like, retired paratrooper whose own distinguished career has given her a drive to serve those who like her, have given so much to the nation, going wherever sent, with no hesitation and no regrets. She sees her work as an honor and privilege! The 3rd angel we encountered is a no nonsense administrator who is tough but loving and looks out for the residents with the focus and intensity of a mother lion! She laid out the rules without even smirking, but after laying out the law, softened enough for us to understand that she cared. God has supplied a great group of folks to look after Dad who truly understand where he's been and where he's at!
After those encouraging encounters, our time with Dad tonight was sweeter than we expected. His mind was with him and he engaged us in conversation quietly yet joyfully. He grasped my hand and commented on the beauty of his granddaugthers at length with no prompting. Luz teased him and like the "Sam Jackson" of days gone by he started grinning with gusto and chuckling with delight! His smile showed up and lit up the room like a 100 Megawatt power beam! We truly enjoyed each other's company. His presence of mind made our goodnight salutations tougher than normal. We hugged, kissed and cried until our eyes no longer held moisture, yet it gave the opportunity to share much love and to recognize our crying as cleansing tears, and our abundant hugs and sweet kisses as precious moments to treasure and tuck away as gifts from God!
The battles of caring for an aging parent are continuous and sometimes victories seem few and far-flung. Yet, as people of faith, it is critical to count the blessings God provides - to celebrate the victories and to count it all joy, knowing that our trials can provide fertile ground to produce compassion, maturity and greater dependence on a Great God who made us, loves us and has designed us not for ourselves alone, but to walk arm in arm with others in love, that our good work might be seen and He might be glorified in the process. Praise God for Dad's smile! Until next time...