My heart is grieving tonight. I have some difficult news to share, and I hate to do it through a blog, but this may be the easiest way to let everyone know about my dad's situation.
We have known for quite some time that something was seriously wrong with my dad. After his heart attack in December of 2010, he was recovering at a normal pace for a few months and then suddenly seemed to take a turn for the worse. He began to lose weight at an unhealthy rate. He started having trouble sleeping. He became stressed and anxious about daily decisions. When I came back to the States in May for my mom's surgery, my dad did not seem himself at all. He was very quiet, seemed to have a very difficult time making decisions about simple things (should we order a pizza or eat in the hospital cafeteria?), was very slow in his response times if he was asked a question, and often would respond with, "Well, I don't know" or "It's hard to say" or some other unclear answer.
When our whole family moved back to the States in late June my dad was clearly not better. He had had to stop working because of some of these problems. He lacked energy, was still not sleeping well, seemed to get anxious about "little" things (like being convinced that the milk was spoiled, no matter the date on the carton) and was having difficulty knowing what to say in social situations.
Mom and Dad tried to get to the bottom of why he wasn't feeling well. Several months of making many trips to a variety of doctors yielded little fruit. The cardiologist said his heart looked pretty good, actually, had healed up pretty well from the heart attack. The family doctor ran a bunch of tests and said there weren't any real red flags. The psychiatrist offered low doses of antidepressants and said it might take some time to see their effect. The behavioral health specialist offered advice on sleeping better but didn't see any real issues. An endocrinologist evaluated some issues with Dad's thyroid and but didn't seem too alarmed.
All of that changed on Thursday. My mom, convinced that something was truly seriously wrong, persevered through all these appointments and finally the family doctor referred Dad to a doctor in Sioux Falls. Thursday they met with this doctor for over 3 hours and the conclusion was something none of us wanted to hear: Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. W, who saw Dad on Thursday, was absolutely convinced of this diagnosis. He did extensive testing, asked Mom to fill out a very comprehensive form, and in his conclusions, he felt that the disease had been approaching Dad for some time. As he explained the effects of this terrible disease, he said that it is evident that Dad is a very intelligent man, with all Dad's years of teaching language arts, coaching sports, singing, and caring for my Mom and her health problems, but now his brain is not working properly anymore. Dad did not seem to comprehend the diagnosis. When Dr. W looked him full in the face and said "Jim, you have Alzheimer's disease," Dad just sort of smiled at him. I think he knows in his head that this isn't good but he has no ability to think through all that this means.
When the doctor shared this with my mom, he spoke straight: "I think you have 18 months." Obviously this is only his prediction, but he made it based on looking at the rate at which the disease has progressed so far. He also warned my mom that her life was about to be changed drastically, that she would be responsible for Dad's care and was going to need help, and how important it would be for my dad to have routine and structure in daily life.
The initial shock is over now, but my heart is still grieving. Before this news, we were still hopeful that Dad would get better. That he'd regain some energy and vitality again and seem more like himself. That he'd make some silly joke or bad pun and we'd all groan at him. That he'd have interest in life again and give me the sports report every time I talked with him. That he'd be back at church again, serving drinks at the potluck meals and volunteering to lead the men's early morning Bible study.
Now I am facing the reality that I may not see Dad get "better"--on this earth, anyway. That we may have already had our last significant conversation. That he may slip away from us more and more. That he may one day not know me, his daughter.
But that is where we have Hope. For this life is not all there is, and Praise Jesus, these fallen and corrupted bodies won't be ours forever. We will have new bodies, be new, sinless creatures, and we'll have all the time in eternity for conversations of significance.
The gospel gives us hope for the future. We want to give my dad the best care possible. I feel a longing to be with him as much as possible. I'm not sure how that's going to work out, yet, but I am thankful to be on this side of the ocean where at least togetherness is a little more feasible. So though our hearts are grieving, we are thankful. Surely the Lord has us in His precious care. He knows us and has laid down His life for us. In that we rejoice and are glad, and I am thankful for my Dad's faith in Jesus. I pray that the Lord will sustain us as we look to the future.
We would appreciate your prayers for our family. Thanks for reading, and thanks for praying.