2019 was a crazy year for us, and it’s only gotten crazier since then! So many of you supported us through that year. Yet, to this point, we haven’t really had the time to process and share. But sense, like most of us now, we are forced into some downtime, we wanted to share with you the story of God’s faithfulness through the life of Tessa’s Dad, Roger.
Tessa has already shared on this blog about her Dad and God’s faithfulness to their family. I’ll be sharing my perspective here in four chapters, Alzheimer’s, Beloved Slug, The Body, and The End.
I only knew Roger a short while, and after he was already sick. But his story has changed my life. He died a year ago today.
It was a perfect, spring day when Roger, my father-in-law, died. It wasn’t just the mingling energy of the cool air and warm sun that made it beautiful but the palpable sense of peace. Perfect is not a common adjective for death. It does not normally describe well at all a process that is so overwhelmingly unnatural. But death uncovered more for Roger than it buried. He suffered from ruthless Alzheimer’s for at least eight years. And he never did beat that undefeated soul-eater. But wait, Roger’s life had been forever changed before it was slowly drained from him. Long before Alzheimer’s crept from the shadows, Roger had already cheated death out of a victim.
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression: Alzheimer’s is ugly. There is no dressing it up. At first it skirted around the edges, noticeable only in Roger’s mood swings or an overall melancholy. Something was wrong. Something essential was being siphoned away from him and he knew it. He ran smack into a sliding glass door while on vacation. That’s when, Karen, his wife, also began noticing things. His skills began to decline. Those too were only affected a little at a time. A draftsman working with numbers all his life, Roger was now struggling to count. Karen was faithful to give him simple math homework each day; the exercise might keep his mind keen. When I met Roger, months later, he could not solve 1 + 1 or even sign his name. Then his body began rebelling as he lost fine motor skills.
I remember one day as the two of us were searching the garage for something, his toes touched the edge of a two inch tall box. Suddenly, his arms shot out, his whole body stiffened, and he fell like a toppled statue down to the ground. It was the perfect freeze-tag pose. Like an App on the fritz, Roger’s addled brain met a problem it didn’t know how to handle, froze, and then rebooted.
He also struggled to find his words. My first impression of Roger was that he had the kind of aphasia of stroke victims. He was friendly, just quiet and worked hard to find the word he was looking for, sometimes spitting out a similar sounding but unrelated word. It is a trope that Alzheimer’s only affects the memory. Roger’s memory was quite good until he was closer to the end. It is true that Alzheimer’s extends to memory. But its reach is much more and much worse. It is a hardening and twisting of the brain—a slow, unobservable death.
See, you often hear people talk about their fight, battle, struggle, etc. with cancer. There is no such fight with Alzheimer’s. You’re not pitting your will against some aggressive opponent. You are slowly having your life sucked away by an unknown force. For all our progress and medical knowledge, no one really knows who the culprit is that is killing your brain or how to stop them. The doctors who saw Roger would rarely even admit he had Alzheimer’s, fearing, we assume, that any information would be misinformation and liable malpractice.
In April of 2014, Tessa and I told Roger and Karen we wanted to help however we could. We celebrated Christmas together in the same house that year as Roger and Karen moved up to be closer to us. We lived together in the same house as we went to post-grad seminary and Roger and Karen lived out their Alzheimer’s life. Soon after, Molly, Tessa’s sister, moved in as well. Once again, Karen was pro-active. They both ate healthy (especially “brain food” Karen had researched). They worked out together. They attended church and hosted people in their home. These were all exhausting tasks as our village pulled together to raise Roger again.