Today is the second anniversary of my dad's death. Mom died three years ago. Three days before Dad died, he spoke two words to me, and repeated them three times. With his eyes squinted because his cheeks were raised in a smile, he reached his shaking hands to mine and rasped, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Dad was a gracious man and anyone who knew him well would say this phrase was just his mantra. But I think back to his dying words, wondering how much cognizance he had as he spoke.
I'd like to think Dad knew me at that moment. I'm humbled that he thanked me for being with him, holding his calloused, feverish hands. More so, I need to believe his last words were meant to be the balm to heal me from the guilt of moving he and Mom from their happy lives in their hometown, thanking me for making tough decisions to preserve their safety.
Sadness and joy intersect throughout life like a scenic, rambling country road, crossing back and forth past clear streams and lush forests, underpassed and overpassed by the racing rage of the interstate. When we take time for the country road we see what once were mighty trees lying on the floor of the woods. These gnarled trees shaded the younger from countless July sunny days and the August droughts, while swaying and swirling, taking the brunt of brutality of spring tornados and winter blizzards. Eventually the ancients toppled, sheered quickly from storm trauma, or fallen slowly from decay. Either way their demise created fertile soil for the saplings. Aren't our lives as families like this? My mom and dad's trees have fallen. Now I am the tall tree, the oldest generation of my bloodline. I carry the DNA of my parents, passing it on to their grandchildren, the younger trees. I ponder the potential in the lives of the tiny ones, their nine great grandchildren, the saplings.
I realize Alzheimer's can and likely will happen to me if I live long enough. I don't need genetic testing to validate. If Alzheimer's does lower its hazy veil, I pray I can retain a loving spirit and graciousness even if I lose my mind. I give permission to my children to do what they must to keep me safe. Do what is hard without guilt. I give permission to tell the beautiful, ugly truth of Alzheimer's. Share the story. Give and seek help from others on their own paths through the deep woods of Alzheimer's.