HAVE YOU TOLD DAD THAT YOU LOVE HIM?
J. Grant Swank, Jr.
“I’m sorry, Bud.”
And then he’d stop mid-sentence. He had forgotten where he was in the sentence.
I was phoning from the East Coast. He was seated in the health care unit of Good Samaritan Village, Denton, TX.
“That’s okay, Dad. I understand. It’s not easy. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s okay. We’ll keep talking and when you forget what you were about to say, I’ll fill in for you.”
It was such a debilitating experience. My Dad was an orator. He presented seminars to personnel in the US Department of Agriculture. He taught music in public schools. He delivered sermons as a lay preacher. He taught Sunday school classes. He spoke to college groups.
Now he forgot where he was in mid-sentence. Not once. Not twice. But over and over again. Short-term memory loss.
So I picked up on another topic of conversation. He grabbed hold of it. Then he’d stop mid-sentence. “I’m sorry, Bud. This is not easy for you.”
“It’s okay, Dad. It’s enough to hear your voice. Don’t worry about whether or not you can recall what you wanted to say.”
That’s the way it was call after call.
He was in his own room at the unit. He looked out his window to see things that weren’t there.
“You know I have hallucinations,” he told me one morning.
“Yes, I see animals out there under the trees but I know that they are not there. It’s the medication. And sometimes I think. . .”
Another sentence left incomplete.
My mother lived in their lovely apartment in the independent living segment of the Village. She spent most of her days however in Dad’s health care room.
One day she confided in me something that she would not want the world to hear. But it was time to share it with the oldest child.
“You know, they call these the Golden Years. Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t find them very golden right about now.”
I was glad she said that for I knew it to be true. There were matters Mom would tend to for Dad that were heavy and burdensome. She herself was in her 80s. It was not easy caring for the spouse when she herself was the other elder spouse.
I went on telling Dad about what was going on in our home. What we were up to. Where we were going. He responded with a smile. I could see it over the phone. I knew he was smiling. I could picture his kind face shining back at me.
And then the conversation would come to an end. It was hard to close out. But it was hard continuing on, too. Those broken sentences.. Those apologies. Those realities of what truly was going on in an educated, talented, committed man’s life.
He was genuinely the best Dad I could have ever had. I grew up in the best home my parents could have ever provided for us. We had the finest.
What I am so thankful for is that when I talked with Dad, I actually told him all that.
“Dad, you gave us your best. You and Mom gave us your best every time. Not every child can say that. But I can say that and mean that.
“Dad, I love you.”
Now it’s been some years since we talked over the phone.
One of those days, the phone rang for me. But it was not Dad. It was Mom. She related that Dad slipped away to be with Jesus in the morning.
I will tell you the honest-to-God truth. I was elated. I was so happy. I was so filled with joy that I cried and I cried and I cried some more. And I’m not one who cries much.
I cried because I knew that Dad would have no more incomplete sentences. That was all over and out. Never again. And for that I was grateful for my wonderful father who walked through The Door.
Since then I have often thought of those conversations. Oh yes, I have reminisced about so many scenes from childhood on up to the present: picnics, vacations, family dinners, birthdays, moving from Maryland to Illinois to Texas and on and on..
But when it comes to the incomplete sentences, I put it on hold. I remember especially his courage with a smile shining all the way across the miles.
“It’s the aging process,” he would chuckle. And there was always a chuckle when he said that. “It’s the aging process.” It was fact. But Dad lifted that up above fact to make it something to take realize.
I’m just so glad that before he left us, I told him up front that I loved him.. I am so very glad I did.