Recently relatives visited us just to get together. Ordinarily such an event is simply part of what families do, but this visit was very different for me making yet another impression about how fragile life really is. Hosting the visiting family at our home, we took a ride around the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have never visited this part of Virginia, the scenery is fantastic, so the day trip was enjoyable with warm springlike weather. Of course I can tell that I am getting older because I actually pay attention to all the landscape and mountains.
One of our relatives visiting has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years; however because of the distance of the miles between us, we have not spent time with him lately. This man is a well-respected individual with a meager start, serving at the highest pinnacles of his profession, finally retiring a few years back. I always admired his thirst for reading with a library of books spanning a wide variety of subjects. Like many of us, he lived his life working for the days that he could relax, travel and spend time on his terms rather than endure the hectic schedules in our busy work lives.
But along the way, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came, disrupting an otherwise fantastic life. The man that took both of my sons on trips, came to ball games, and cared for them as his own children now is in need of care himself. I was struck by his bewilderment at times, his silence during conversations and, moreover, by his private struggle of discomfort. Here, a man that at one time had tremendous responsibility over thousands is struggling with simple basics like whereabouts.
The moment that “took me under” was just prior to their departure. His wife brought me a bag of neck ties and she asked if I would tie them for her. I gladly accepted because I actually enjoy this particular part of being a man and frankly, I do a pretty good job. While looking in the mirror as I customarily do during the process, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This simple act that he performed for over 60 years of his life was now something menacing. I stood there looking at myself with his tie wrapped around my neck thinking of all the wonderful times I had spent with him, a man that had done so much for others, including me, could not tie his own tie because of this retched disease.
Although we all pitched in to assist his wife over the weekend with simple movements from place to place, this moment really got to me. I was honored to tie his ties, but also reminded that we only have today. If we are healthy, we enjoy a carefree luxury that at some point in our lives may turn into a burden. Not just for ourselves, but for those that love and care for us. I have a renewed respect and empathy for those caring for others, it’s just plain exasperating and exhausting. Literally everything that was once simple is now a challenge.
Upon completion of getting all the ties tied, I returned them to his wife. As I handed them to her, I knew that another task was taken off her huge caretaker list. But doing this was more than a help for her, it was a lesson for me. Be grateful for today and those that love you. Have compassion for others that love someone else enough to dedicate their life to making life better for the person they love. In the end, there is an end. Enjoy what you have now, it doesn’t last forever. From the Command Post, Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander