I sat in the quiet of my house, tears flowing as I read the last book in a series titled, “Journeying Through Grief” by Kenneth C. Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist. A friend from church gave it to me with a note attached saying, “I am sorry I am getting this last book to you late.”
But you see, the book wasn’t late at all. In fact, it was delivered in God’s perfect timing. I have struggled with so many emotions the last couple of weeks as the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death approached, and this book was filled with the encouragement I needed. It reminded me that there is no time table for grieving, and that even though this past year of “firsts” has been difficult, if I continue to find year two, three, five or 10 difficult, that it is perfectly fine. There is no “one-size-fits-all time frame for grief. As Haugk says, “You don’t go to bed on the 365th day still grieving and wake up the 366th day feeling completely healed.” I have made it through a year without my dad. It’s not that I had any doubt that I would as I know the Lord renews my strength just as Isaiah 40:31 tells us, but I have missed him tremendously, and I know that isn’t going to change on day 366 or any day after that.
For many who lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease, death can seem like the second loss because the first one comes when your loved one no longer knows who you are. I faced this sense of loss in the last year of my dad’s life. Many times we felt that he was seeing me as my mom in her younger years. In fact, sometimes he would pat my hand or caress my face and say, “I have the best little wife ever.” Once he asked his sister if she knew who I was, and she replied, “Yes, I do.” My dad just grinned and said, “She’s been in our family a long time.” My aunt and I just smiled.
In Chapter 5, Haugk shared this quote from a gentleman by the name of Dennis Klass: “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.” He also shared a saying from an Irish headstone that said, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal.” The first one is true. Death nor even the cruel clutches of Alzheimer’s could end the relationship with my dad, but no matter the depths of love, Alzheimer’s can, and does, steal our memories away.
It’s sad that Alzheimer’s robs a person of their life even before their death. How many times throughout our lives do we say, “I’ll never forget…” Now, I realize that until a cure is found, those treasured memories can be pilfered from our minds – but not from our hearts. It’s true that my dad seldom knew my name in his last year of life. Yet, without a doubt, I know his heart knew that I was somebody he loved and that I loved him too. His big smile, his eyes lighting up with joy, and then that jovial, “There she is!” as he reached out to give me a hug was all he needed; it was all I needed. No names required.
Haugk closes this last book in the series with a chapter titled “God’s Aloha.” He reminds us that “aloha both bids farewell and welcomes.” So, in loving memory of my dad on this one-year anniversary, I say aloha to God’s perfect timing, to His amazing grace, to His unfailing love. He continues to bless me with all that I need as I go through this season of grief. No matter how long I am on this journey, I know He will continue to provide peace, comfort and strength.
Aloha, Dad; until we meet again. I know you will be there to greet me with a smile and outstretched arms!
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