I visited my dad yesterday. He lives in an assisted living centre where he is surrounded by caregivers and residents.
My dad suffers with dementia – this terrible disease that robs the mind of memory. When one member of the family suffers we all suffer.
As we watch this happen we grieve with him the loss of so much – the ability to process – the ability to remember – the ability to understand. We watch as this man who carries himself with such dignity and poise – struggles to remember what to do with a tooth brush – how to put on a belt – and where to find his razor.
And yet with the help of those caregivers around him he still looks every bit the same as in his younger days – as he gently allows us, or the caregivers he trusts to lead him through the daily routines and ensure he is always ready for the day.
He has the reputation in his residence of being so well dressed, and the ladies there remind us of that when we visit. They tell us he is the best looking man there. And of course we smile knowing that my dad would never imagine anyone thinking this. We also smile, because we know that just finding clothes each day to wear is a struggle, let alone knowing what shirt to match with which pants, and finding the right socks and shoes.
It is my dad’s humble spirit that allows him to trust others to help him. It is gentleness that gives him the grace to accept this help with dignity and trust. And as I watch this play out on a daily basis in his life I realize that it is only because he has had this same attitude all throughout his life that he is able to have this attitude now – now at a time where he doesn’t have the same capacity to filter his thoughts and his responses.
I marvel that the man who he has always been, a man full of grace, goodness, encouragement, thoughtfulness, humour, insight, wisdom, and straight forward truth is still who he is. Kindness is the reputation he has – the nurses tell us he has such a good heart. When we tell them he seems good today – they respond by telling us he is always good – because his heart is good.
And as I watch this unfold – the last years of my dad’s life – I wonder if I will finish well as he is finishing well. Some would say he isn’t finishing well because there are times he talks in circles making no sense at all – mixing thoughts up – speaking nonsense even though somewhere in the confused communication there is truth and logic. Some would say what a shame that he is so healthy and yet his mind is so far gone at times he doesn’t know his own children. Some would say what a shame his life has come to this – and yes there is great sadness that this disease has taken so much.
But as I watch him deal with this on a daily basis I see a man who finishes each visit and each telephone call with the phrase “keep on keeping on” as if to say – where there is life there is hope – and where there is hope there is love. And he lives this way – and treats all who he comes into contact with kindness, and with encouragement.
I imagine he does this because he made a decision early in his life to live this way – to see goodness in all things – to see hope in the darkest hour – to trust even when he didn’t understand. He made a decision to treat all those around him with gentleness and goodness – and because he did this when he knew to do this – he does this now even when he doesn’t know to do it – it is a natural response – a way of life.
That is what I call finishing well.
And he inspires me to live well now so that I will set the pattern for finishing well. I realized after my visit that I am not gentle as he is gentle – I am not patient as he is patient – I am not kind as he is kind. And so I am thankful for his example to me – I am thankful for the check in my spirit to be better and do better.
And I realize that finishing well is not always what we imagine it to be – finishing well is living in such a way that you inspire those around you to finish well too!