As a young man, my dad had a large original oil painting hanging in his apartment. It depicts a vase full of cheerful, daisy-like flowers painted in the hallmark colors and character of the early 70s: loud, gaudy and stylized; it’s a fitting tribute to the culture of that era.
Years later the painting found a prominent place on our family room wall. Despite its brash style, my mom managed to coordinate it with the décor in a tasteful way. It represents a very specific time from my childhood, conjuring up memories like a window back to the past. It’s not exactly beautiful or museum-quality, but I love that painting.
Now that I’m married with children, I have the painting here with us, but can’t seem to integrate it anywhere. I’ve tried out various rooms with no success – it’s just too big and gaudy. But I have no intention of getting rid of that painting, because it was my dad’s and reminds me of him. As he slips away and we lose him in stages to Alzheimer’s disease, I’m holding on…I don’t want to let go.
Recently my mom reminded me of a memory album gifted to my dad by his co-workers upon his retirement. It took on new meaning in light of his current mental and physical decline. The album contains many fun pictures of Dad with the staff, along with their well wishes and moving tributes. The notes express gratitude and consistently cite his integrity, knowledge, kindness, sense of humor, and faith.
One tribute stands out; it reads in part:
“Without trying you taught me what type of supervisor I wanted to be. In all things you led by example, with integrity and honesty. ‘Being true to your beliefs’ was inherent in everything you did. Even at difficult times when it would have been easier to go with what was easiest you chose what was right. It’s that integrity, that love for truth, of doing things thoroughly and right that shaped our friendship. Because of you, today most importantly I know how to stand against the tide for what I believe is right and true. Where do exceptional mentors go when they leave their training ground? They go on to shape God’s world in a different place. They go on to walk the Word in action and deed.”
I’ll keep Dad’s painting to help me remember him, even if I can’t find a wall to hang it on, but these tributes offer a clearer, more precious window into his character. He loved his family, friends and community and he loved and served the Lord. He certainly had faults and shortcomings, but in his quiet, humble way he honored Jesus and shared his faith. Dad has always been a man of principle who worked hard, upheld high standards and led by example. His influence was significant and appreciated; I’m so proud of him. Alzheimer’s disease may steal my dad’s memory and function, but it can’t erase his legacy or worth and will never compromise his salvation for eternity.
I’ve spoken with many friends and acquaintances who have cared for or lost family members to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Their support and insights have been comforting and valuable, and I’m grateful. Many are fellow Christians who have prayed with me and are praying for my family. Writing to honor my dad has been cathartic for me, but I pray it may also be as much of an encouragement to others as these friends have been to me.
Grieving together with my family as we deal with Dad’s decline is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. We try to prepare for loss, try to let go, but we’ll never really be ready. By God’s grace we are learning to navigate. We talk a lot about trusting Him and what it means for Christians to persevere. Even though we may suffer, God is sovereign, in control and has our best interests in mind: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
Jesus warns that we can expect to have hardship, but He also offers encouragement by reminding us that we can endure through His grace: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Paul reminds us that suffering produces endurance, character and hope: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
The ultimate example of perseverance was Jesus: He persevered through persecution against Him by sinners (like ourselves), enduring the cross for the sake of the coming rewards: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Christians: we find hope to endure suffering by trusting in the rewards promised to us by our faithful God. I pray as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:8, that Christ will “sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.