As we rounded the corner into his new room at the nursing facility, I peeked at his bed and saw him lying there: still. But his eyes were open and he was looking around. The lights were off and twilight was making a headway into his part of the world, so it was dim. There is no TV for him yet, and no pictures on his section of the wall for him to look at. It made me sad that he was simply...looking. I flipped the switch and warm light flooded his room. His eyes turned to the source.
As we entered, he slowly focused on us and in an instant, I saw a spark of life leap into his face. Yes. He still recognized his family and he still felt that thread that ties our hearts to his. I went immediately and sat on the edge of his bed. His eyes followed my movements like a thirsty traveler would follow a trickle of water in a desert. And in way, that's all that I felt I was offering him: just a trickle of life.
I made sure my eyes stayed locked on his for several seconds, and as has always been true, his brain finally caught up to the image he was seeing and he slowly...ever so slowly...began to smile. My grin got wider as his grew brighter. His cheeks flushed and he tried to talk to me. His excitement increased as his effort to communicate through words eluded him. I put out my hand and softly stroked his white hair, and his frustration ebbed away. His smile remained.
"Dad," I said laughingly, "Today you look just like a little bird! With your bright eyes and curious expression...and your soft, fluffy hair...you look just like a new-born chick." He grinned. Then, with great effort, he looked past me... lifted his head to see around my shoulders and again began to smile. He had spotted his grandson and his happiness expanded.
My dad has always loved his kids and grandkids and he holds nothing back when he sees them. My son came to stand close to the bed and Dad lifted his eyes to look at his tall grandson and laughed.
My husband came back into the room with a magazine and proceeded to show Dad all the pictures in the hunting periodical that he had found. Slowly, they made their way through the hunting fields of America and on into the exotic lands of Africa. Dad's eyes rarely left the pages, except when he would lift them to meet my husband's eyes...sharing the visual image with him in the only way he could; with a glance.
There are many ways to communicate...many ways to share...many ways to enjoy love and life and each other. And I am grateful that Dad still loves to share it with us, however subtle or reserved it now has to be.
We stayed with him until his eyes grew heavy and his breathing evened into sleep. And as I sat and watched him for a few moments, I wondered if his Alzheimer's-damaged brain was being set free in slumber. In his dreams, was he running again? Was he bending over his garden, stroking the baby plants with tender care? Was he driving down a super highway on the hunt, with his family along for the ride, for another vacation adventure--sure of his path and whistling his merry tunes? I hoped so!
We left a soft light glowing over his bed and said quiet good-byes to his sleeping form. His tufts of spiky white hair moved ever so slightly in a barely perceptible breeze, and I lightly swept my hand through it one more time. "Goodnight, Dad," I whispered. "I love you."