Olivia Newport portrait of father

My nephew, who turned out to be an amazing, creative artist, painted this portrait.

This is still a hard day for me. A hard few days, even after all this time.

Eight years ago I stood outside my insurance agent’s office. I was there for a routine purpose, but for a reason I don’t remember now, I was without a car and knew I had a few minutes before my ride would come. It was one of those blazing, startling pleasant days that Colorado likes to spring on us in January’s dead of winter. I remember lifting my face to the brilliance that was the sky that day. I remember considering going into browse at a furniture store across the parking lot. I remember the orange construction cones at the entrance of the nearby fire station.

It was my dad’s 83rd birthday. I didn’t go in and browse. I stayed outside and paced the sidewalk and called my mom to see how she was handling the day.

Nine months earlier I had been present when we moved Dad to a nursing home because his full-fledged Alzheimer’s made it no longer safe for my mother to care for him at home. But she visited frequently and had been to see him the day before with my sister and a piece of cake, and she thought he knew her.

In one of those fleeting intimate glimmers that we all hoped and prayed for every time we visited him.

But he didn’t eat his cake.

My dad was a lifelong proponent of eating cake for breakfast. For a bedtime snack. Just because it was cake.

So she thought maybe he was not feeling entirely well, but he was not able to articulate such sensations anymore. I tied up her home phone line for a good thirty minutes, with still no ride in sight. When we finally hung up and I stuck my phone in a pocket, I was startled to hear it ring two minutes later.

While we created a thirty-minute busy signal, the nursing home could not reach Mom and resorted to calling my sister, who lived nearby. Dad had collapsed and had been transported to a hospital. Right while we celebrated his passion for cake and strawberry ice cream. Right while I held him in my heart on his birthday.

He died three days later amid a gathering of hymn-singing family that far exceeded hospital visitor guidelines because he loved hymns and we are a stubborn bunch. And I tossed a handful of soil on his casket three days after that. Dust to dust.

I loved my dad. I was blessed that he loved me. I know not everyone gets to have that experience, and when I think of people I know who haven’t, I feel a peculiar kind of pain.

Two years later, during the same winter week, we held a similar vigil for my husband’s father. Our two fathers share a  burial date. An odd thing. The Illinois ground was snow-clad and frigid on both occasions.

So this is a week of remembrance, of emotion, of fullness, of gratitude, of loss, of release, of quietness in spirit, of rejoicing, of missing, of longing.

I plan to wear my dad’s red flannel shirt as much as I can.

And I hope you have someone in your life, whether genetically related or not, who you feel this way about.


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  1. Sue Harrison on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

    What a beautiful tribute, Olivia. Thank you for sharing.

    • Olivia on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

      Thanks, Sue.

  2. Mercey Valley on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

    You have been blessed with a cool Dad, and in this meantime, yes, we remember much.

    My Nanna has Alzheimer’s. Today I bought my Dad a shirt. This weekend we remember the passing of his father a year ago…

    “To making it count.”

    God bless you as only He can, dear lady. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    • Olivia on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

      Thanks, Mercey. It’s such a mix of emotions, isn’t it?

  3. Kathy Banning on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

    Beautiful. I am in tears.
    I lost my father 3 1/2 years ago, Alzheimers, 2 days after his 84th birthday. I lost my faher-in-law exactly 6 months before, to the day, and about the same time, in a house fire in MN. He was only 72. I so miss them both. Every time I see geese flying I know the two of them are there,along with a brother-in law who passed at age 34 of MS. Flying……..

    • Olivia on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

      Thank you for sharing my tears. I hope someone is sharing yours. It’s so much better to walk through these seasons with someone.

  4. Jaime Wright Sundsmo on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

    *sniff* I dread this day when I say farewell to my Daddy. I will usher him into Jesus’ arms but I will definitely weep for our temporary goodbye.

    Hugs, Olivia!

    • Olivia on the January 21, 2013 remarked #

      Thanks, Jaime. A lesson from my experience is that even when you know it’s the best thing for a suffering loved one, such as a parent with Alzheimers, it still hits you like a ton of bricks. What a wondrous, mysterious thing is the bond between parent and child at any age.

  5. Jennifer K. Hale on the January 23, 2013 remarked #

    What a beautiful memory you hold of your father. We’re coming up on the two year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Last year, my grandmother died of complications of Alzheimer’s. I understand the pain of that disease. But now I celebrate that they are together in heaven. Can’t wait to see them again someday! Praying for you this week, O!

    • Olivia on the January 23, 2013 remarked #

      Thanks, Jenny.

  6. GladysMP on the January 23, 2013 remarked #

    I have always realized how fortunate I was to be born to two deeply religious parenta who loved both God and me with all their hearts. My mother taught the Ladies Bible Class and my dad taught the Men’s Bible Class in our Baptist Church. They studied their Bible and religious literature daily preparing for the lessons they would be teaching. They are both gone now, but they made a wonderful difference in our city while they were living. They lived what they taught. I miss them so much.

    • Olivia on the January 23, 2013 remarked #

      Gladys, I’m glad you can look back on your growing up years and see such examples of faithfulness.

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