by Karen (Richardson) Roesser
As I look around this room, I see many of you who knew my dad. And why wouldn’t you? He was an active member here at North for more than 50 years…truly a “long-standing member,” a “pillar of the church,” a “man of faith,” and …a “loving father.”
My sisters and I often say we had two dads: our dad before Alzheimer’s and our dad with Alzheimer’s. I’m sure you know about this progressive disease that takes away your memory, the ability to care for yourself and the opportunities to enjoy the life you once knew. It’s a devastating diagnosis. I think Nancy Reagan described it best when speaking of her husband Ronald: “It’s the long good-bye.” This part of the story is not good news.
As I watched my dad during his final years of life, I saw that there were many things that Alzheimer’s couldn’t take away from him. First and foremost—the love we shared with him as a family and the love that he was able to give back to us and yes, right up to the end of his life. One of the things I feared most was that my dad would just forget who I was. Every time I came to see him I would wrap my arms around his neck and say, “Hi Dad…it’s Karen.” I didn’t want him to forget my name. In the end, he did forget my name, but I could tell that he knew I was his daughter—someone that he loved deeply. That’s all I needed.
He enjoyed things in his life that were always important to him. Music. His dog, Bonnie. Chocolate, spending time on the deck of his cottage on Lake Chautauqua, and just being with his family and his beloved wife of more than 50 years.
Another thing that never seemed to slip away was his faith. And although he couldn’t express it and I’ll never know what he was thinking and feeling, I observed my dad become settled, happy, comforted by the familiar hymns he knew so well, the singing of our family grace before a meal, the Lord’s prayer, and our traditions at Easter and Christmas. He was a man of faith, and I like to think that God was whispering in his ear, “I am here, I love you. Do not be afraid.”
One thing that was clear to me was that the Holy Spirit was working through some very caring people in this church, just to name a few. They would probably tell you it wasn’t a big deal. But it was a big deal.
Don Berg would come over and have lunch with my dad and stay with him so we girls could take our mom out to lunch for a much-needed break. That was a big deal.
Bob Hunt put four or five coats of red paint on my parents’ front door to get it to just the right shade. That was a big deal.
Mary Lou George, who spent countless hours with our family during a surgery the final days of my dad’s life and beyond, the prayers and comfort she gave to us during a very difficult time, was a very big deal.
So here’s the good news. During those years that my father declined with this nasty disease I observed a man who never lost the most important things in life. He gave love and he received love. The Holy Spirit was ever-present with arms wrapped around him through people like Don, Bob and Mary Lou to give comfort and peace to not just my dad but to our whole family, and to me.
I have no doubts, I really don’t. I am at peace knowing that my earthly father is with our Heavenly Father, and that is a story of good news. I love you, Dad.
This is the first in a series of stories by people who told their “Stories of Good News” during the Lenten season at North Church in February and March.