My Daddy is a day away from a move that he is totally unaware of. He is in advanced stages of dementia and is shortly moving to a nursing home to receive full time care. It has been difficult for my mind to even process this. Mostly it feels like an out of body experience. I live a couple of hours away from my parents, so it’s not part of my daily experience to see his dementia. When we are together, he tends to do well because he enjoys the company, even if he’s not always sure who we are. Daddy has always enjoyed life. I remember so many times he claimed to be a child stuck in a man’s body. Not far from the truth. He played often, told corny jokes, and never sat on the sidelines of life. He was a hands-on dad. Engaged.
This week all that he means to me and all that I’m losing hit me squarely between the eyes when my two year old came out of the kitchen wearing the rubber gloves he keeps at my house. She exclaimed happily, “Papa’s gloves!” Tears immediately filled my eyes as I helped her put her chubby fists deeper into the giant blue and yellow gloves that dwarfed her hands. His rubber gloves. Every time my parents would visit us, my dad would insist on washing the dinner dishes, and any other dishes left over from the day, for that matter. He always had to serve us in that way, even feigning offense if we tried to dissuade him. Like me, he prefers to wear gloves when washing dishes, so he purchased a pair years ago to leave at my house so that he’d be prepared to wash any time he came. He has always been the family “dishwasher,” even when I was at home, insisting on serving my mom by cleaning the dishes after she had cooked a meal for the family. Whenever I have lamented not having an electronic dishwasher, or my mother before me, he would say, “What do you need that for when you’ve got me?”
Funny how such a simple thing as rubber gloves can set off the deepest emotional response. Partly the tears came because, even at two, Hannah knows whose gloves they are — evidence of the bond she already shares with him, and of his importance in our family. How I wish that she would experience the version of him that I know. These gloves remind me of all that we’ve lost to dementia. That Daddy has probably visited my house for the last time. That the gloves will be empty. That he is forgetting his grandchildren, and that they will never know the version of him that I hold so dear. That he knows me less and less each time he sees me. The thief of dementia. I miss the heart of the hands that once filled those gloves.
Whenever I slip on my gloves to serve my family, I am aware of the legacy he created, the servant’s heart he and my mom both shared with me and my brother, which we now have the opportunity to walk out. Though his yellow and blue gloves are too big for me to ever fill with my feminine hands, I know that through my heart, I fill them as I serve my family and my Savior.
Like Daddy, I won’t sit on the sidelines of life. He taught me by his example how to engage, to take action, to love, how to seize the opportunity, to fully live. During times of sadness such as this, it is easy to want to check out, to go numb so that you don’t have to feel the pain of your experience. But that’s not what Daddy would do and it’s not what he would want me to do. When my mom got cancer many years ago, I can still remember my Daddy sitting in his recliner, in the same position it sits tonight, calling each one of his closest friends, and through his tears, telling them the news. He never held back. Always engaged.
This week happens to be VBS for me, so I’m doing it with all my heart. For Daddy, and for the Savior he lead me to as a child. Daddy loved nothing more than spreading the love of Jesus to others, especially young people. That’s an opportunity that must be seized every single today we have, no matter what else is fighting to distract us. That’s what Daddy would do.
I’ve been singing this over and over again….