One year ago tomorrow I used this space to share that my Dad had just been diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or one of the other dignity-assaulting flavors of dementia, hand crafted in the darkest heart of hell.
Dad’s birthday, Father’s Day and the annual Holland Family reunion all fall within a few days of each other this time each year. Thus, I just left Dad, Mom and a throng of other Holland’s this morning in the hilly woods of Southeastern Oklahoma. I learned from Mom last week that Dad believes this reunion is his last.
The highlight of the trip for me was an opportunity to sit in on a game of dominoes with my dad and two of his brothers. That may not sound like a big deal but you have to know that most of my misty, watercolor memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases as a kid involve seeing dad and my uncles at Grandma’s dining room table playing dominoes. Sitting at that table seemed to me to be an impossibly grown up thing to do.
Mom had quietly expressed concern about Dad being able to manage all the mental math on the fly, but she needn’t have worried. It is not the math side of Dad’s brain that is under attack. In fact, it is only the cognitive file drawer that holds all the nouns that ever more frequently seems to be stuck shut. He and his partner won.
For decades now–at least since I left home for college in 1979–Dad and I have parted with an awkward handshake and a “See you soon. Or maybe a “Drive safe.”
I learned long ago that my Dad wasn’t going to express a lot of verbal affection. In recent years I’ve come to understand that Dad’s “love language” is “acts of service.” Even in years when words came more easily, he wasn’t going to tell you how he felt. He was going to show you. Those oil changes, deck repairs and a thousand other unsolicited helps took on a new significance once that light came on.
When it came time to hit the road today, I said “Try to come see us when you can,” and stuck out my hand.
I was not met by his hand, but by a hug. And a raspy -voiced “Love you, son”
To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ever heard him say those words before–though I’ve never once doubted it was true. Maybe it’s the law of supply and demand at work. Perhaps words rise in value when they ‘re suddenly so hard to come by.
“Love you too, Dad. Thanks for everything.”