All would live long, but none would be old.
When I first met him three decades ago, he was a clever, accomplished 60-year-old. He was self-aware, well-versed, well-read, and well-travelled. He was rigorously honest, selfless in his actions, and generous with his time. He was engaged with friends and colleagues from around the world. His self-deprecating humor was well-known to everyone who knew him. At the time, he was about to retire from a career combining his gifts as a beloved teacher, a respected leader, and a deeply spiritual intellect.
One thing really annoyed me, though: It seemed that whenever a conversation had reached a stopping point and I had taken a couple of steps toward the door, he would invariably call out one more question. It happened all the time. With each new query, I would turn back, finish the conversation again, and retreat. Sometimes, this happened two or three times before I would finally escape.
Over the years, I became accustomed to this propensity of his. Sometimes, I found ways to distract him as I snuck out. (“Look! A huge bird! Right behind you!”)
Too many times, I mumbled an answer or pretended that I had missed his final question. I did not like being rude. Sometimes, though, it seemed the easiest way out.
During the final years of his life, Alzheimer’s Disease tightened its grip. His eyes still sparkled when he got a hug from his grandchildren. He remained pleasant and attentive, playing card games with help. He could answer simple questions appropriately when they allowed for an automatic response and was able to maintain a social veneer long after the ability to reason had abandoned him.
Somewhere along the way, though, he stopped calling me back for just one more question. I never noticed when the habit vanished.
Who would have thought that his loss of spontaneity would be manifest by no longer needing to prolong a conversation? Who would have thought that he would still be able to process and answer simple questions but no longer be able to create his own?
As he neared the end of his life, I was not surprised to find that I missed those moments every time we concluded one of our simple conversations and he sat quietly, watching me walk away.
||The following is feedback received for this blog:|
Sorry for your family's loss.
Your blog just beautifully summarized what my family is experiencing with my father-in-law. Thank you for putting it into words.
- Nora Sale
Nicely done, Dr. Campbell. I wonder how many times this pattern has been replicated? That which was so annoying becomes that which we miss...
- richard holloway
Dr. Campbell- isn't it interesting that the things that often irk us most about family are the things we miss the most when they are gone! Sorry for your loss.
- karen rudzinski
What a beautiful tribute to your father-in-law! Your honesty allows us to identify with our own situations and recognize how we might strive to make the best of our relationships. Thanks for being so open, and so caring. My best to your family.
- Susan L
An eloquent and succinct portrait, Uncle Bruce. Thanks for sharing.
At the time, I remember celebrating all of the little victories, the transient glimpses of his inner personality still coming through - whether he was participating in a lawn game, offering a prayer, or engaging in even the simplest of social exchanges.
Only now can I look back and realize how painful his silence was.
- Gabriel Andeen
Dr. Campbell, I was catching up on your blog entries and came across this one regarding your father-in-law. I am so sorry for your family's loss this summer. Your words thoughtfully conveyed how many of us feel when our parents start slipping away and then are gone, and the things we miss most sometimes drove us crazy during their lifetime. I hope everything else with you and your family is going well. Take Care.
- Michelle Wales