Today I honor the Veteran I loved the most by remembering my Father’s last battle and his ultimate Victory. My Dad was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, the survivor of three and a half years as a prisoner of war, and the ulimate survivor of a five year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Several years ago a very public man suggested that those who face this last and most cruel battle are “Really not here.” At the time I was compelled to respond in rebuttal because to remain silent, would be a disservice to my family and my father. This adaptation of that post is not a rebuttal. It is my tribute to my dad. A man who suffered so profoundly for our freedom. Who deserved my respect and love even in his worst hours of suffering.
My dad went to heaven after suffering from Alzheimer’s for over five years. In the end he recognized no one, and could carry on no meaningful conversation. His every need had to be taken care of by others. He spent much time staring blankly into space. But he mattered.
One of the last times I visited dad, he simply held my hand and ran his rough, work hardened fingers over the face of my watch. “That’s a nice watch,” he said, over and over again. This was the man who survived unthinkable punishment as a POW defending my freedom. This was the man that taught me how to hunt and ride a horse. This was the man loved to take us fishing. The fingers that gently traced the outline of my watch were the same fingers that showed me how to put a worm on a hook. My dad wasn’t good with saying I love you with words, but I got the message when those rough hands would tousle my hair.
Dad’s was as much of a hero battling Alzhiemer’s as he was defending our country. God’s admonition to “Honor your father and mother” doesn’t only apply to those in excellent mental health. Because dad’s spirit had been dimmed by this horrible disease never gave anyone the right to diminish his value as a person. The suggestion that he “wasn’t there anymore” was cruel and dead wrong.
This blog is written with deep empathy for those who have cared for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. I understand the toll this disease takes on caregivers. I saw my mom suffer profoundly as she watched dad become a shell of the man he had once been. I watched her suffer trying to care for his daily needs and grieve when other caregivers had to be found. Eventually loving professionals were enlisted to take care of dad, but to the end, he was mom’s husband and our beloved father.
I think the following story by an unknown author captures the compassion that reflects the kind of love those who fight this battle deserve.
It was a busy morning, approximately 8:30 am, when an elderly gentleman, in his 80′s, arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He stated that he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am. I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him.
I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.
While taking care of his wound, we began to engage in conversation. I asked him if he had a doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I then inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer Disease.
As we talked, and I finished dressing his wound, I asked if she would be worried if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.
I was surprised, and asked him. “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?”
He smiled as he patted my hand and said. “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.” Author Unknown
I am so thankful that no matter what our condition, God still knows who we are. No matter how decrepit or deranged he remembers the price that was paid for our redemption. Because of who He is and his love for us, he will never leave us or forsake us.
Dear friends, If at some future date you find me staring into the distance because this disease has wracked my mind and body. I ask you not to cast me off.
Please visit me.
Hold my hand.
Let me touch your watch and sense from some deep place in my soul that you love me.
I ask you to believe that until I go to heaven and look into the face of Christ………….
I am here!!
And after that, I will be with my father.
My Father, Kenneth Earl Davis, “Prisoner of War and Prisoner of Alzheimer’s,” was set free on April 18, 2006 and promoted to life “Fully Alive and Eternally Free.”
The story of the impact our father’s experience had on our life is recorded in “Forged by War.” A tribute to my father written by my sister, Candie Blankman.