Today is my mom and dad’s 47th wedding anniversary. Today is also one of my dad’s last days.
In 1967-68 he served a tour of duty as a drafted soldier in Vietnam. While there he was exposed to Agent Orange. Almost immediately upon returning home he began having migraine headaches. These episodes lasted on and off for three decades. In 1996 he had a seizure which led to the discovery of a brain tumor. In 2003 he suffered a debilitating stroke. In 2012 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. For the last 21 years he has gone through a regimen of steadily intensifying neurological treatments.
There is no way to know for sure, but the prevailing thought is that his issues are linked to his exposure to the world’s most notorious herbicide. Some men die in war. Others die from war. Either way it rings ever true, war is Hell.
When a couple is married they make a vow, for better or worse. As a family we have seen better days. We have enjoyed blessed days.
My dad taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to play tennis. We played a hundred games of football in the hallway with a wad of socks substituting for the pigskin. I will never forget what it felt like for him to be on his knees, no way to get around him, and to run smack into his chest. He would pick me up and throw me down. It was awesome.
My dad taught me how to suffer as an Atlanta sports fan. When I yell at the TV it is because he convinced me early on that the idiot refs can hear my protest. Herschel Walker is my favorite player because of him. I dance whenever there is a beat because of him. I try to hit the key of Bee Gee because of him. I shake my leg when I sit still because of him.
Dad’s leave an indention on the souls of little boys that only grows bigger with age. The older I get that indention becomes imitation.
My mom has one solution for every ailment. If you will get up you will get better. And if you will not get up, she will get you up.
As aggravating as her nursing skills can be, it is probably her dogged determination that has helped my dad survive so much and live so long. They should have sent her to Vietnam.
And now we are in the worse days; dad’s last days. She can’t get him up. Today she laid down beside him.
Dad is to the point that his lips barely move and there are no audible sounds, just breaths where the words used to be. But he opened his eyes. She took his hand and she said, “Happy anniversary.” He touched her face and said, “Happy anniversary.”
Life can be good. Even still the curse of sin in death eventually comes and is ever cruel. As a pastor I have walked with many in their final days. And now, as I watch my father fade, the hope of the gospel does not fail. It is enough.
I am thankful to have parents who exemplify that marriage can last. The hell of war, the pain of cancer; not even a daily, progressing, debilitating disease can extinguish committed love. These are the “worse days” and she is a faithful wife.
Whether you are 4, or now nearly 44, you watch that sort of thing. It leaves an impression. Today as I considered the crush of losing my dad, I knelt beside my bed and committed even this unto the Lord. Tonight, it was as if God said through them, “Watch this.” And so I am.
I am thankful to have had my dad for as long as I have. I am thankful to have had a dad like him. It is as if these last days with him have flipped an “on” switch in my mind that contains reel upon reel of marvelous childhood memories. It is imperative that we as parents fill our children’s hearts with great memories.
I am thankful to have a doggedly determined mother who has raised a doggedly determined son. If I don’t have much sympathy for your whining and griping, thank Brenda. Get up. You’ll feel better.
I am thankful to be a 43 year old boy still watching his parents love one another just a few more days.