I walked down the corridor not knowing exactly what to expect from Dad. The nephrologist’s report was extremely cautious, if not discouraging, though friends had reported improvement. As I neared the dining room where he was reported to be, I steeled myself for the worst – a blank stare, no recognition of my face or person, a shell of the man my father truly is inside. I had arrived. I took a deep breath. I stepped into the room and peered around the corner to see if Dad was there. One of his neighbors was being assisted with his eating, while it appeared Dad was eating on his own. One of the staff noticed me and Dad’s eyes followed hers. When our eyes met, I was hit instantly by a warm wave of joy and relief! Dad’s eyes widened, a HUGE smile spread across his face and his voice BOOMED: “HEY MAN! YOU’RE LOOKING GOOD!!” Not only recognition, but feeling and volume! The improvement since our last time together was incredible. Dad picked up after that with a string of questions and observations that stunned me. He wasn’t 100% by any means, but he was 100% improved over my last visit and there was a strong and present connection between us! We conversed and laughed and my 4-day visit to encourage Dad and continue to establish his care began.
Over those four days, as I took care of all the matters at hand, I visited with dear friends who have been absolute pillars of trust and help to our family. As I saw Dad daily, I experienced the complexity of his Dementia. Dad would never fail to recognize me, but he would lapse in and out of a time warp, suddenly in another place and setting, then jolted back to reality not sure of exactly what had transpired. Perhaps the most jolting instance occurred just before I bid Dad farewell for this trip.
We were chatting and joking , with Dad teasingly inspecting me and informing me that my footgear “needed some kiwi” when he asked how my mother was doing. He made two follow up comments that let me know he was under the impression that my mother was alive. Knowing my mother was in Heaven, I answered, ”She’s fine” – of course, she is - well placed in her heavenly home. But somehow, Dad read my expression. A look of realization came to his face. He dropped his head and wept. Then, without my speaking, another look of realization…”You have to go back today, don’t you?” The sorrow in his eyes hit me like a sledge hammer and it took everything “Jackson” within me to deadpan an answer without tears. “Yes sir.” I responded flatly. He wept and my tears wouldn’t stay in my sockets no matter how hard I willed them. We hugged and wept for an eternity. I said “bye” countless times but we couldn’t let go until the fountains had dried.
Suddenly, he looked up. “Get me hat for me, Man.” He sweetly petitioned. I got up and retrieved it, handing him his newest Master Blaster headgear. He gently took the hat from my hands, rubbed the jumpmaster wings affixed to it and looked up at me. “Can you pray for me?” He asked. Somehow, by God’s grace, I lifted up a prayer on behalf of my father and our family and knew that through our fellowship, laughter, tears and those wings, we had experienced bonding and healing beyond words. God had given us His grace in our deepest, rawest pain, and we were grateful. We embraced once more and I headed out the door with a last look and a smile and began the journey home.
I know that there are more chapters to this story and that there will be more tears ahead. Nevertheless, I am thankful for God’s mercy, which I have experienced in abundance this week, and grateful for the eternal healing in HIS wings available to any who are willing to walk the hardest miles, without shame or reservation that love might shine through for God’s glory and the blessing of others.