There once was a young boy named Edward who was easy going and liked by all the other children. He loved to pull pranks on people and tell jokes, but only to get a laugh, not to belittle anyone. Edward was a giver. When anyone needed help, he was the first to lend a hand.
Edward’s parents threw him a birthday party and all the children in his class were invited. It was a gorgeous April day, so the party was held outside, with picnic tables full of party favors and balloons tied to chairs. Edward greeted his guests as they arrived one by one. Children gathered around talking and laughing, excited to celebrate with Edward, play games and eat cake. But when the last guest arrived, a hush fell over the partygoers. Everyone began to whisper ~ Billy had come to the party. The other guests didn’t want him there and were hoping he wouldn’t show. Now they looked nervously at one another to see where he would sit. Billy was the class bully. He loved to pull pranks too, but he was not good natured. Instead, he laughed at his classmates and belittled them, pretending to be superior. He didn’t care who he hurt. He just wanted to wreak havoc on anyone’s good time. There was even a rumor that Billy would steal birthday presents from the gift table.
Being the good host, Edward smiled and welcomed Billy to the party. Edward’s parents looked nervously at one another, hoping that somehow Billy would behave himself and there would be no incident. Halfway through lunch, Billy started teasing a shy little girl, since she was an easy target for his mischief. Edward’s mother walked over toward Billy and spoke kindly to the girl, putting her hand on the girl’s shoulder. Billy stopped his teasing.
When the children were playing games, Billy tried picking on other children. But every time he did so, Edward’s mother or father would walk over and stand beside Billy, occasionally saying something to him to redirect his attention. Billy was not their child, so they stopped short of rebuking him. But they refused to let a bully spoil Edward’s birthday.
Last Friday was my Father’s 81st birthday. Those who know him know that he is easy going and loves to make people smile, pulling plenty of pranks to get a laugh. He is tender hearted, treating everyone the same and always lending a hand to anyone who needs it.
For the past 15 years, a bully has shown up at my Father’s birthday parties. Some years this bully doesn’t make much noise. But in the past few years, he’s grown louder and more obnoxious, always wanting to make his presence known. Our family would love to refuse to let this bully come, but we are powerless to stop him. He loves to belittle my Father and doesn’t care who he hurts. He just wants to wreak havoc on his day. Whenever I see the bully move toward my Father, I try to stand up to him and keep him at bay. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. When the bully rears his ugly head, my Father just smiles and takes everything in stride. I try to downplay anything the bully does, drawing attention to my Father instead.
This bully’s name is Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t just show up in our home. He shows up in millions of homes, always trying to wreak havoc and steal skills and abilities from people that we quickly learn are gifts.
In the final stages of Alzheimer’s, a person can experience different physical changes:
- Profound memory loss and loss of ability to communicate with words
- Loss of mobility, inability to sit up
- Difficulty swallowing foods and liquids
- Decreased interest in taking food and liquids, weight loss
- Poor blood circulation (colder hands and feet)
- Impaired bladder and bowel function
- Prone to infection
- Loss of facial expression
- Decreased senses
- Increased sleepiness or agitation/restlessness
- Increased phlegm and mucus/secretions
- Irregular breathing
- Irregular pulse
- Skin problems
Two days before my Father’s birthday, another symptom appeared. We called the hospice nurse, explained what was happening and learned that this is normal for people with dementia. Thankfully, my Father isn’t in any pain. But for us, it’s a new symptom that’s making its presence known, a stark reminder that he’s inching closer to eternity.
This bully doesn’t just show up on birthdays. He shows up throughout the year. But I’ve learned that the best way to deal with the situation is to stand up to him and refuse to allow his presence to ruin my Father’s day. If my Dad’s hands and feet are cold, we pile on the blankets. If his taste buds have changed, we try different foods. If his skin gets dry and begins chafing, we smooth on the cocoa butter. Whatever the situation, we make the best of it and focus on what my Father can still do, not on what he’s lost.
If people just died and that was it, this disease would be unbearably depressing. But while a person’s physical body is temporal, their spirit is eternal and will live forever. Since my Father has a personal relationship with Jesus, everything this bully has stolen from my Father will be restored to him on the day he leaves this earth.
You see, my Father was made for eternity. You and I were made for eternity. And the choice my Father made decades ago to accept Christ’s death as payment for his sin means that ultimately, the bully loses and my Father wins. Just as Jesus rose from the grave, my Father will one day be raised to eternal life. He’ll have a new body and his mind will be made whole.
Isn’t that the best gift anyone could ever receive?
Happy Birthday Daddy.