Some of you know that back in October of last year, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; it was something we had feared, but not dared mouth. No matter how much someone prepares to hear those words, it doesn’t ease the sudden dread that washes over in the moments after those words are spoken or read.
For me, it took place while alone working on a rent house for my parents. I received a text with the results of my dad’s tests. Alzheimer’s. There is a brief period of shock where the words are detached from any meaning. They are simply that, words. I remember calling my mom and one of my dad’s friends who was deeply involved in the testing period and the telling of my dad a couple of weeks later. I talked to them, calmly. You see, it was still a word. It was not something based in reality. A mere concept. Nothing more. It didn’t affect reality. Yet. After those phone conversations, I remember going into that rent house’s kitchen, where I was planning on doing something and that is when the words became embodied.
I broke down. I couldn’t help it. If the residents next door were home, they may have heard. Once those words became something real and grounded, the dread came flooding over me. I wouldn’t just lose my dad, but I would lose himslowly. My family would witness the cruelty of disease and death in slow motion, stretched out over days, months, years. Watching as death gains more ground every day. Memory, function, life, going one by one.
I wrote the article on the before and after of getting the diagnosis for the Mockingbird quarterly during this time. And there have been moments when I had been disgusted with myself about the concept of writing about his disease and how it affected me. I felt like maybe I was stealing some sort of sick glory for myself. All the while, he was the one dealing with the diagnosis and the inevitabilities that come with it.
Would I write the article over again and hand it over to be published? Yes, I would. Because whatever inferior motivations there may have been in the writing of that article, I think are overwhelmed by the positive elements. The church is often silent about suffering when, throughout its history, it has been anything but silent. This American culture of self-help, -improvement and prosperity gospel refuses to acknowledge and lean into suffering. Because it’s not a happy endeavor. I want my dad’s struggle to be public, so public that people cannot ignore it. Suffering strips away intellectual scapegoats. I also want people who may be going to through the same thing to know they are not alone. Also, I want them to know the origins of joy amidst the “abyss.” Joy only comes, in those dark places, through a Christ who suffered, himself, and died on the cross. Period. Any other origin ends in death and disease being nothing but cruelty and futility. And, plus, this is one of the ways I am dealing with the news and the days following. I write about it to keep myself sane, to release all that is bottled up throughout the days.
Things have changed since I wrote that article. My dad has shown moments of depression and his responses to the disease have not been near as life-affirming. He knows what is coming and, according to him, he doesn’t want his family to go through it.
Do you know how hard it is to encourage someone to keep fighting when you, yourself, know that those would be your exact sentiments if put in his situation? Talk about hypocrisy.
My dad tears up more than I have ever seen in my life now. They are still bright, blue and full of life, but the tears are evident.
I took a trip to the Louisiana coast a couple of weeks ago with my dad, my uncle and my best friend to go deep sea fishing. While the shadows of the disease lingered throughout each day of the trip, there were moments of joy. One of the pictures taken of my dad holding up a fish he had caught on a particularly turbulent day on the water has him bracing himself with fish in hand and giving a big ol’ smile. That picture gladdens my heart.
I am coming to realize that it will be those small windows from now on that will keep the darkness at bay. It is these moments that will be the grace of God in a shitty situation. That is the substance of hope in the breakdown of this world.