Teaching ‘Til the End

Mary - Byron, Michigan
Entered on June 4, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: death, family, legacy

I believe that everyone has something to offer the world and teach to others—no matter where they are on their journey through life. My dad is a perfect example because my earliest memories include learning from him, and as his memory faded I learned even more.

When I was four and I welcomed him home after a day’s work, he taught me about a loving, caring family.

When I was eight, we would take evening walks that would often end in a footrace. I don’t think I ever won, but I was in the lead for most of each race. He taught me courage and determination.

When I was 11 and caught a huge fish just off the dock at a vacation cottage, he waded out to the rowboat and towed me in. He taught me I could always count on him.

When I was 20 and questioned our faith, he wouldn’t accept that I could have questions. He taught me there comes a time when my decisions are my own.

In my late 30’s things began to change. Dad became forgetful, repeated himself often, and began getting wary about things that had never bothered him before. Alzheimer’s had come, and I believed our roles were reversing.

Yet he was still my greatest teacher. This strong, intelligent businessman who was a caring community volunteer was losing touch with our reality. He became a recipient of services he had once given to others. My mom wanted him to stay at home as long as possible, so my four sisters and I visited as often as we could to give her relief from this crushing responsibility.

Dad and I often spent our time taking drives around the community. I learned to take my foot off of the accelerator as we wound down the back roads along the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. During one particular visit, we were on one of our usual drives. I was stressed with my own thoughts—what I still needed to do over the weekend and what the week ahead had in store.

Suddenly, my dad said, “Look at that blue sky. Have you ever seen anything so pretty?”

My racing thoughts stopped. I slowed the car even more. I looked around at what was indeed a beautiful autumn afternoon. I took a breath and relaxed. My dad’s Alzheimer’s had him living only in the moment—a lesson he unknowingly passed on to me. It’s a memory I cherish and a lesson well learned.

My dad passed away on January 23, 2007, at the age of 82. I was 48. I still hear him gently reminding me to look around and enjoy the moment.