Missing Dad

Most of my recent blog posts have centered around Mom and her Alzheimer’s journey, but years before Mom’s diagnosis – we faced a similar struggle with Dad and his dementia. Mom - DadCheck out the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s here: http://bit.ly/AFg8SC

On a cold November day, Dad decided to build a fire in the fireplace but for some reason, the fire just wouldn’t draw. Maybe the wood was wet or maybe it was still green. We don’t know. Dad decided to help it along.

What does every good farmer know about fires? If you want a bigger fire, you add more fuel.

So he threw a little kerosene onto the embers and suddenly was engulfed in flames. He bravely fought the inferno that quickly spread from the fireplace to the carpet to his favorite chair. He beat it out with his bare hands and his arms, saving our home. Then he hurried outside to gulp some fresh air.

Just minutes before, Mom, who worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office, felt the divine nudge to “Hurry home.”

When she drove up the driveway and parked her car, Dad stood outside. She noticed that his shirt was burned. Scraps of fabric hung from his arms. Puffs of smoke rose from his singed hair.

But when she hurried across the yard to help him, she realized those weren’t scraps of fabric hanging down – they were pieces of Dad’s skin.

First, second and third degree burns across his chest, arms and hands. His eyebrows singed and his soul aggrieved as he blamed himself and asked God to forgive him for being so foolish.

An apology that resulted from legalism and spiritual abuse – blaming himself for an accident and for the failure to be perfect.

Four months in the hospital, horrific debreeding procedures, surgeries to graft skin from his legs to his arms, pain medicine – and Dad forgot every bit of it.

The doctors diagnosed him with “Trauma-induced Dementia” but the symptoms were very similar to what we’re seeing in Mom.

An urgency to look for something, to have one of us drive him to the university where he played basketball. We searched for something, but Dad couldn’t find it nor could he name it.

Then he gradually forgot how to speak. He was never a big talker anyway, but when he talked and when he prayed – people always listened. Everyone knew Henry Ediger was a man of great wisdom.

Then Sundowner’s Syndrome where he paced at night – back and forth, back and forth across the carpet. He made funny sounds, similar to something a toddler uses, then finally settled in his grey wingchair – isolated within himself.

Mom and my sister cared for him in the home for ten years – ten long years of gradual regression, of trying to figure out what he needed and what he wanted, of patting his hand at night and kissing him in the mornings.

Those were the years I visited and sang to him. I wrote about that experience in my blog post: https://rjthesman.net/2012/03/30/the-power-of-the-music/

The spark of joy from my music lit up his eyes until Easter of 2004 when there was no response. I knew then that he was headed home. I was losing my dad.

In May of that year, during a spring month when everything should have been coming to life, Dad suddenly stopped breathing.

As quietly and gently as he lived, that is how he died.

We buried his physical shell in the Mennonite cemetery, and I still have one of the lavender wildflowers that covered his casket.

So on this Father’s Day weekend, I will ask God to say hello to my dad and remind him how much I love him – how much I still miss him.

And I will be grateful every single day of my life for his godly example – even when the flames engulfed him.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”   http://amzn.to/176xIdt

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