Today on Father’s Day, I’m remembering my father. He’s been in Heaven for 15 years now, but I still miss him.
He was born on a farm near the small town of Dilley, Texas, and lived there his entire life except for the time he served in the Army and the time he spent in a nursing home at the end of his life.
He met my mother when he was stationed in Utah during World War II. She followed him to Texas, far away from home and family, and gave up her Mormon religion to join him as a member of the Methodist Church. They raised six children with little money but plenty of love, faith, hard work, and commitment. Their lives revolved around their children, and they set excellent examples as Christian parents, friends, and neighbors.
Daddy had a great sense of humor, and I loved the mischievous grin he sported so often.
Although he had only a high school education, Daddy was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and was a whiz at math. He could work any problem in his head, but he couldn’t tell you how he arrived at the answer. As a kid, I used to test him by asking him to solve a problem and checking his answer on a calculator. Daddy always answered before the calculator processed the problem, and his answer was always right. When I asked him how he knew the answer, he said, “That’s just what it is.”
He prided himself on being independent and self-sufficient. To provide for his family, he worked for the post office in addition to running the farm. He grew our food—produce from the garden and meat from the livestock—and could repair anything with a little baling wire or duct tape.
One Sunday morning, Mama found Daddy standing in front of the mirror in the bedroom holding his tie and looking confused. He couldn’t remember how to tie a tie, though he had worn a tie to church every Sunday for decades. Then he was presiding as commander of the American Legion and became lost and didn’t know what he was doing. Those were the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. After he suffered a heart attack on Father’s Day, the Alzheimer’s accelerated dramatically.
We watched this once bright, independent, and happy man deteriorate mentally and physically over the next seven years. My mother cared for him at home with the help of paid caregivers, my sisters, nieces and nephews, and me. Finally it reached the point that he required more care than could be provided at home, and he had to go to a nursing home. The nearest facility that could accommodate his needs was about an hour away For the last few months of his life, he lay in a bed—unable to control his bodily functions, unable to communicate, and unable to recognize loved ones.
He loved his farm and his cattle and had always wanted to die in the same place he was born. When the nursing staff notified us the end was near—probably within a few hours, my mother, sisters, and I rushed to the nursing home. One of my sisters and her husband had a van with a wheelchair lift for my niece. We strapped Daddy into a wheelchair and loaded him in the van to drive to the farm, praying all the way that he would live long enough to die on his beloved farm.
When we arrived at the farm, he fought my brother-in-law and nephews when they carried him into the house. He had the look in his eyes of a trapped animal, a look of fear that had been in his eyes for years. We got him into the house and into bed in my parents’ bedroom, which had windows all around the two outside walls.
My mother, sisters, nephews and nieces, and I took turns sitting with Daddy. We held his hand. We told him we loved him. We described what we saw outside the windows—the fields, the cattle, the sunshine. We let him know that he would never be alone. Gradually that trapped animal look left his eyes, and his eyes and face filled with a beautiful look of incredible peace.
We brought him home from the nursing home on a Tuesday morning, and he was still living Friday evening. The last time I sat with him, I said, “Daddy, we love you, and we’ll miss you when you go. But you’ve done your life’s work, and it’s time for you to go home to Heaven. You don’t have to worry about Mama. We’ll take good care of her just like you’ve taken good care of her and all of us. We’ll always miss you, and we’ll always love you.” I continued in that vein for quite a while.
In the very early hours of the next morning, he slipped away quietly and went home to the Lord.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I miss you!