Saying Goodbye to Parents, Part III (A Severe Mercy*)

Craig Glass

19 Posts Published


August 23, 2012

in bedMy dad is disappearing. In fact, to a large extent he has already disappeared. I’m just trying to learn how to say Goodbye.

A naval officer in World War II and Pentagon intelligence officer during the Korean War, hospital administrator for two and a half decades, and the director of a ministry support organization, my dad has lived the classic life of a member of The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw has named them.

Dad rose from a blue-collar neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside, to attend Notre Dame, Princeton, Columbia and Northwestern. He served his nation, his family, his colleagues and God well.

Two and a half years ago, my mother passed away, and Dad has lived in the void of that loss every day since. His body is filled with arthritis and manageable cancer, and is now falling victim to Alzheimer’s. Yet he rises each day to take his meds, eat, chat a bit, and then go back to bed. His waning life has a terrible beauty I can’t put into words.

My sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Michael, have provided heroic care for him every day for these past years. Periodically my brothers and I spend a few days at his side. This week I am with him.

Conversation with Dad is increasingly brief; marked by sudden glimpses of the “real” Dad—even his humor:
“Dad, do you want to get up to take your pills?”
“Do I have a choice?’

“Dad, what hurts today?”
“What doesn’t?!”

Michael recently gave us a tip about how to talk with parents disappearing through Alzheimer’s: Don’t ask them to tell stories about their lives, tell them their stories. It’s genius.

Fortunately, we have some tools at our disposal. My dad wrote a book to his grandchildren several years ago, relating the debthighlights and memories of his life, Through the Eyes of A Grandfather. He also has a booklet compiled for him of his writings to his staff at Bethesda Hospital, which he took from an empty abandoned shell to a modern care-focused House of Mercy, as Bethesda means in Hebrew.

These days I spend with him I read to him the words he passed on to his staff in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s; and the words he has passed on to his grandchildren 20 years ago. This clip is from the day when he was led to the Lord by an evangelist in February, 1937. This plaque hanging in his kitchen describes the deep gratitude he has for that day. “He paid a debt He did not owe; for I owed a debt I could not pay.”

I confess my sadness, my weakness, my inability to know how to process this profound life slowly disappearing before my eyes. And I confess that I long for him to go Home, to be reunited with Vonnie the love of his life for 67 years, to be freed from his pain and emptiness, to stand before the Father, who I’m certain will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

His passing would be a severe mercy. Until then, his life remains a terrible beauty.

*Gratitude to Sheldon Vanauken for his powerful book with this title

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