The Preacher and I travelled a thousand summer miles between Dad’s home and ours recently. We took a bed and breakfast a mile or so down the road from his care facility and visited daily between naps and meals.
We played checkers for an hour one afternoon, he and I. When the board held only two sets of five kings battling for the field, he stole two of mine in one go. “Daddy, you’re good at this,” I wrote on his whiteboard. His hearing loss makes audible conversation almost impossible.
He read the words (upside down, mind you) and shook his head. Minutes later, he won fair and square.
Will someone please explain to me how an almost 94-year-old brain, unable to grasp how a whiteboard works, what province is home or (at times) whether I’m his wife or daughter, still possesses the cunning to plan moves and plot strategy?
In the background, his television displayed colourful scenic images. Dad watched a strutting male peacock, tail spread regally. It reminded me of a Vancouver park our family visited often in my childhood. Peacocks and flamingos wandered freely. Monkeys, bears, whales and armies of scolding black squirrels entertained us. Dad laughed often there.
“Remember Stanley Park?” I wrote, hoping we could talk about those trips; recall days when life held more colour. His elegantly sterile care facility feels to him only a pretty white (and achingly lonely) prison.
He shook his head. “I don’t know that game. I wouldn’t know how to play.” I sighed and drew a tic-tac-toe grid on the board. He placed an X in the centre. On his next turn he scribbled an O in the corner.
Out in the hall, a patient called for help. Tulips appeared on the television, blazing red. “Remember how Mom loved flowers?” I wrote. Mom died in 2014.
“Yes. I remember.” He smiled and closed his eyes. “Do you ever see her, around where you live? Do you see Jesus, too?” His eyes shut again.
“Dad, take a nap. It’s ok!” He shook his head vehemently. “No, I wouldn’t know what to do!” then his head dropped. “I think I’ll lie down,” he said finally. I helped him transfer from his wheelchair. Lifted his feet onto the bed. Arranged his pillows.
I want to snatch Dad from this end-of-life confusion. From this place and time where loneliness wraps him like a shroud, lowering the corners of the wide smile I’ve loved since childhood. My siblings live nearby and visit regularly, but none of us can be with him always. We struggle with that.
I sit with my Bible open on my lap, as Dad often still does. My heart is heavy. But in that book, God speaks to me. Reminds me of his promise that Dad is never really alone. That even in these tattered years, ragged in understanding, God is present. That one day, Dad’s faith (and ours) will become sight. He will see Jesus – and Mom too. Till then, we pray and carry on.