Google Photos has this magical function that allows it to make cute, little photo books and collages for you to print and enjoy. It also sends you memories of photos you’ve taken in the recent past.

Today, I didn’t find that so magical.  What the Google gods decided to send me today was a picture of the last time I got to hold the hand of the man who raised me.  Two years ago.

When I received the notification of, “you have memories to look back on”, I gladly clicked. I was excited to see what would pop up today.  Usually it’s an adorable memory of one of my kids or a funny work post that I can re-share for all to see.

Today, not so much.

Instead, I was reminded that it’s been two years since I saw his face – 24 months since I felt the rough texture of his hands or smelled his cologne on my shirt while driving home from a visit.  Some days, it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I heard him say, “Hey, baby, how you doing?”.

Anyone that’s lost a parent knows the sucker-punch-to-the-gut feeling that hits out of nowhere:

  • sometimes while you’re driving and you hear a song
  • sometimes late at night when you can’t sleep
  • sometimes when you’re sick or having a hard time and you can’t call to ask for advice or reassurance that everything will be OK.

The sad truth is, I lost him long before two years ago.

He was one of the millions who was struck with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In fact, there are approximately 44 million people worldwide who are suffering with this scourge – 5.5 million in the US alone.

This means that there are at least that many families who have begun the grieving process while their loved one still lives.

Any terminal illness is horrific to watch from the sidelines, but this one takes a toll like no other.  It’s like the afflicted are robbed of their souls and the bodies are left to wither in a seemingly endless game of tug-of-war.

When he was first diagnosed, like many, I think we all knew it was coming. 

There were little signs that something wasn’t right:

  • repetitive questions or stories
  • frustration at not remembering how to do a menial task
  • struggles with simple math.

He took it in stride, at least to my face.  I will always treasure what he said to me that day, “I’ll never forget you, though.”

But, he did.

The last time I was with him for a visit it was just he and I, watching old westerns on TV.  Just like when I was a kid – except it wasn’t.

He went back and forth between asking me how many times I’d been married and confusing me with his ex-wife or a high school classmate.  It was torture, really, and I kept wondering how painful it must have been for him – was he even aware?  Was he in there, somewhere, fighting to say, “I’m here, I know you, I love you, I haven’t forgotten.”

Then, he was there.  For one precious moment, a gift from God, his eyes cleared and he looked at me, patted me on the leg and said, “Hey, baby, how you doing?”

I said goodbye to him that day knowing it was likely the last time I would ever really see my step-dad; the man who was always in my corner.  The one who taught me not to take any shit and to think for myself; the man who had always been there.

The picture you see here is of our final visit.  He was in a nursing home and I was told there wasn’t much time left.  Despite the disease, I am forever grateful for that priceless time together.  I was able to tell him all the things I never said – that I loved him, that I would be OK.  And, thank you.

I hope he heard me.