Before he retired, my dad was a forensic toxicologist. He worked for 34 years at a nationally renowned laboratory that provides expert services such as drug and clinical testing, post mortem toxicology and crime investigation. The lab has been involved in several high-profile criminal court cases like the OJ Simpson and Derek Chauvin trials, and although Dad was not involved with those, he provided his expert opinion as court testimony for various trials.
Dad was very well respected within his professional community and often called upon for advice and consultation, even collaborating on published scientific papers. He is very handy and also a perfectionist, often working at something for hours until it functions or looks just right. He renovated a significant portion of my parents’ home himself, using his garage full of tools which are in mint condition and organized like the tidiest room inspired by Marie Kondo.
My father was the firstborn of 6 children. He never met his own father until the age of 2, after returning from the war. His family lived in a low-income neighborhood for a time, where the plumbing was lacking and food shortages were common. As the oldest he often cared for his younger siblings, becoming very responsible at a young age. My mom noticed his maturity and charming good looks while they were both just kids in high school, many years ago.
One of my favorite childhood memories is Dad’s whistling – it was beautiful and comforting and somehow a window into his mood. I could tell how happy he was depending on how much he embellished the notes, trills, and volume: fancier definitely meant happier. His whistling often accompanied whatever music was playing, and it was always playing as Dad was a bit of an audiophile. He was very protective of all his stereo equipment and kept things in meticulous working order. I remember when he first let me control the turntable needle and put it down on the vinyl for the first time – I felt honored and proud.
My Christian walk has been profoundly influenced by my parents. Mom has modeled a life of deep, abiding faith; her trust in the Lord is inspiring and humbling. Dad has been my first and best example of how to be a healthy critical thinker. He modeled for me that it’s ok to love Jesus but also ask tough questions, admit and confront doubt, and to recognize that we don’t have answers to many mysterious questions about Christianity.
Once I asked Dad his opinion about creation vs evolution; he suggested that perhaps God made the earth appear older than it actually is…or maybe we need to adjust our understanding of time. What if God is an Intelligent Designer who created a world which evolves? I learned it’s ok to consider many possible theories since these issues are complex and require nuanced consideration. It’s good to keep searching and thinking – ultimately God wants our minds and hearts on Him. Dad’s been such a good father, especially because he pointed us to the Good Father.
There are so many other details and tidbits to describe Dad – he bought the family a boat but still had yet to get his boating license (we had no doubt that he would); as a boy he was really good at baseball; he has a lovely singing voice and infectious laugh; he was strong and always made me feel safe; he is kind and gentle yet a force to be reckoned with, loves his grandkids, cats, onions and Breyer’s cherry vanilla ice cream the most.
Dad is all of these things and yet not really – not anymore. He has Alzheimer’s Disease. I write to remember him, though he hasn’t yet departed from this world. I catch his glance and see a light of recognition and love for me in his smile, yet it’s challenging to recognize him there; the dad that I remember and expect is leaving us, steadily.
I’ve heard it said that Alzheimer’s Disease is “The Long Goodbye.” As it progresses, a personality wears away along with cognitive function and memory. The mental decline continues faster than bodily decline and by the time the body dies, the person tends to forget who his family and friends are and becomes like a stranger to them. We are all currently grieving for my dad, learning to let him go, even as we desperately hold on to who he still is.
But my mom is suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease too. The man she fell in love with and has been married to for 56 years is not the same person. The man who provided for her, who was so capable, so accomplished and responsible is regressing, retreating, and relying completely on her. She has had to adjust to many new roles and responsibilities, many of which used to be his.
It’s not really possible to prepare for these changes. We acknowledge that they are happening but that’s just an exercise to cope and function. If not for the faith we have in Jesus Christ, my family would not be able to endure this trial. Isaiah 61:3 says God will give us a crown of beauty to wear instead of ashes and the oil of joy instead of mourning. Jesus read this verse when he visited the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaimed to be the very one who would take away the spirit of despair and give garments of praise.
We believe Jesus came to atone for our sin and make a way to restore our fellowship with God, our divine Father, who is sovereign over all. There is hope for the future because we can trust Him to one day restore all things as He promised. My earthly father’s mind will be restored of this “temporary affliction” and made whole again in paradise, for eternity. Praise God for what He is doing in our lives to prepare us for fellowship with Him in glory.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV