Special anniversaries after a death are important times. We mark the significance by remembering.
This week I remembered. One year ago, we put my dad in his memory care home. Six months ago, he left that home for his eternal one.
I had the honor of driving my father on the last car ride he would ever take. This week, I retraced that drive. My father loved the open road. He loved everything about cars and driving. His dream job was being a long-distance truck driver. Now I was driving him.
That last week, we’d ordered pizza and we’d eaten it around my parents’ little table for the last time. We took Dad out for his last breakfast (his favorite meal to eat out). Dad kept trying to get up, saying he had to go and fill up the truck so he could go to work. It was hard to restrain him. It had become increasingly hard to calm him down when he became agitated.
The director of the memory care home came to do an assessment. Dad liked him immediately. But he didn’t understand. He thought he was going there for a job. He thought Mom was going there, too.
The day before he left, his pastor came to read Scripture, pray with him, and promise to visit. That meant a lot to Dad.
As I packed and labelled his clothes, he asked me if I’ll still give him his pills every morning. He liked me to put each pill, one at a time, on the crook of his finger as he swallowed them. I thought, who else will have the patience to do that?
The morning we left, Dad had been ready for hours when we arrived. His face looked worried. He didn’t think he’d do a very good job for the director, but he agreed to trust me. We loaded his lift chair in my husband’s truck. Steve drove the truck with my mom inside. I drove Dad in their car, filled with his stuff.
And then we left. As we drove up the mountain, especially green and lovely that day, Dad kept looking through the window at each new vista and saying, “Wow! That’s so pretty!” I can still picture him, made small with age, eyes and ears that barely worked, looking out and enjoying what he saw.
I kept glancing at the rearview mirror. “Steve and Mom are still behind us,” I’d say. When we pulled into the parking lot of his new home, Dad turned around. “Where’d they go?” He thought Steve and Mom were in the back seat.
We stayed all day, unpacking, eating lunch with Dad, getting him settled. At one point, Mom had drifted off, exhausted. He looked at me and said, “You take care of her. Promise me you will.”
He didn’t understand when we left. And yet he trusted me. It took a while for him to feel at home there. Until one day, he did.
As I read back over my journals and relived some of the stress—a new crisis every couple of days for a couple of years, my spirit felt heavy. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea to come back to this place. I started my day of remembering, appropriately enough, at a breakfast place in a renovated mountain train depot. (Dad would have loved it.) I kept moving my location—to waterfalls, creeks, park benches.
The more I read, the more the heaviness lifted. I became certain. We did the right thing for Dad. We did the right thing to take care of Mom. We did the only thing we could do.
Was that what today was about? Did I need to find vindication? To know my dad forgives me? Did he think I chose Mom over him?
The home we selected was the perfect place was for my father. He was loved. He was cared for. He didn’t understand at the time, but now I know he understands. And he would say there’s nothing to forgive.