August 25th, 2010:

Making a last connection

After a decade of battling the effects of Alzheimer’s, my stepfather, who raised me, was in the last stages of the disease when I planned a visit to make some kind of peace, at least with myself, regarding our complicated, difficult relationship. I hadn’t seen him for about a year—would he recognize me? He didn’t recognize my sister, who was supervising his care and visiting him consistently at a home for elderly patients. I didn’t know what to expect.

She had kept me informed of his decline and all the complications as he slowly withdrew from the world. She said he would get nervous around her sometimes, even though she saw him all the time. When she had come to pick him up for a photo session with a local photographer not long before, she had a difficult time getting him into his suit, shirt and tie, even with help from some of the home’s attendants. At one point he slammed his foot down on hers; he had acted like a two-year-old. Life had come full circle. The resulting

In Germany in happier days - me, Dad and Mom

photo showed a diminished man who looked older than his 78 years.

When I met my sister at the Salt Lake City airport, I was optimistic. But by the time we ate dinner, my stomach was queasy and I could hardly eat.    Most of the night I was either hugging the toilet or sitting on it, thankful I had chosen to stay in a hotel.

I was weak but over the worst the following morning when my sister picked me up for our visit. When we walked into his semi-private room, he was dressed in slacks and a red-plaid shirt and napping in an armchair. He was pitifully thin, his cheekbones stood out, and his once wavy brown hair, now gray, was reduced to a few strands. At least the red plaid gave him some color. What had happened to the imposing and strict Army colonel who had fought in Korea, commanded troops, and traveled the world, the father whose word was law? My sister and I would joke that if he said jump, we’d answer, “How high?”

I approached the chair and gently touched his arm. His brown eyes opened wide—sparkling briefly with recognition and love. They spoke volumes of understanding, a momentary meeting of souls, telling me of forgiveness, peace and farewell.

It was a miracle.

The following day I discovered just how much of a miracle it had been. Head down and refusing to look up at anyone, Dad had retreated to his own world. A few weeks later he had stopped eating and soon left the earthly world for good.

I was glad I had had the chance to say goodbye.

Dad in his senior years

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