All through autumn the goal was get my to dad healthy enough to come home to Alaska for Christmas one more time. Now we’re headed for hospice in warm Arizona.
Pawpaw enjoyed his time with my brother, Tim, and his wife, Lisa. “I had a really great Christmas,” he kept saying over and over. But as they prepped to get him on the plane back to Anchorage and on to Phoenix, Dad was fragile. He had bouts of weakness in his legs, he struggled to breathe when he got anxious, his confusion mounted.
They called me to give me the heads up. My brother Facetimed me from the Valdez airport so Dad could see my face, hear my voice, and know for sure I’d be waiting for me on the other end.
I hung up and looked up at my son and daughter-in-law. Heavy sigh. I was heading back into difficult caregiving waters. “I don’t want to do this,” I blurted out, instantly regretting saying the words out loud.
Tony asked, “Want us to pray for you?” I nodded. The family gathered round me and Tony prayed.
“Lord, we ask that you’d give Pawpaw a clear mind to make this trip…”
My eyes flew open even as everyone continued to pray. Why hadn’t I thought to ask God for that? “a clear mind to make this trip…” It was a new concept. Not “get me through this” or even “help”, but a specific thing—a clear mind.
Face to Face
An hour later as the Ravn Air attendants wheeled him into the terminal, he smiled at me waiting on the ramp and said, “That’s my daughter!”
We had a few hours before the flight to warmer weather, so our son, Tony, and his family met us at a nearby restaurant so they could say a long good-bye to Pawpaw. On the way to the restaurant, my dad wasn’t sure who we were going to see, but he began to remember when he saw their faces. The great-grandsons understood that Pawpaw might have trouble remembering their names, so they prompted him when he talked to them. They were gentle and warm in their answers. Tony and Kristan’s conversation made Pawpaw smile.
Tony is following in his grandfather’s footsteps as a pastor. They both have a big heart for bringing people to Jesus. Pawpaw gets teary-eyed every time he talks to Tony. “You’re doing a great job,” he told my son.
Dad said he’d like some soup—clam chowder sounded good. After the waitress left he asked, “When do we get to order?”
“We did order, Dad. You ordered clam chowder,” I said.
“That does sound good.”
We would repeat that conversation eight times before the food came. He couldn’t keep the memory for more than a couple of minutes.
After the meal there was just enough time for photos and hugs. We all snapped pictures with our iPhones, straining to hold onto this last good-bye as long as we could.
Tony drove us to the airport and helped Pawpaw mince steps into the terminal by Alaska Airlines. He gently eased his grandfather into a chair and gave him a long, warm look. What do you say to someone so instrumental in your life when you know it’s likely the last time you’ll see him?
“I love you, Pawpaw,” he told him, then words failed him. Words failed me. Tony reached down and hugged his grandpa, then he hugged me tightly, and left.
The Long Road Back
The plane was already boarding when we reached the gate. We had to get reassigned seats so that I could sit next to Dad. The plane was nearly full with only a handful of empty seats. But one of those empty seats was next to Dad and me. And the person assigned to it never showed up. We had extra room!
As the five-hour flight progressed, I noticed Dad was calm, clear and understood where we were going. I was flabbergasted until I remembered my son’s prayer, “give him a clear mind to make the trip.”
We landed in the early morning hours. Dad needed to go to the bathroom so he took off up the aisle with the rest of the disembarking passengers. I thought he’d wait at the first-class bathroom, but instead he got off, loaded himself into the waiting wheelchair, and was ready to go when we managed to get to him. But as we worked through the airport to baggage claim his memory started getting fuzzy again. By the time we got to the house a couple of hours later, he was back to the puzzling world of Alzheimers.
But we’d made it safely back to Phoenix.
God had answered Tony’s prayer.