When Daddy turned seventy years old, I asked several friends and family members to send me a few words that they thought described Daddy. The response was extraordinary.
Strong, confident, steadfast, dedicated, hardworking, committed. Brother, son, father, husband, uncle, and a friend were mixed in, too. We framed the piece of art and presented it to him with a huge piece of German chocolate cake. I could tell he was trying not to be overwhelmed. I wanted him to know that he is deeply loved by all who know him.
Because it takes a deep love like that to tackle dementia on a daily basis.
These past several months, this disease robbed my Dad of his speech, his memory, and his ability to move. Knowing he would rather be on the lawnmower, burning leaves, picking flowers with Addison, or taking a walk around the pond with Mama, our prayers shifted.
Of course, we wanted him with us. We want this to be his home. But we also wanted healing. We wanted restoration. We wanted Daddy back.
And we are overjoyed and elated to know that he is whole again.
How do we know? Because Johnny Ray knew Jesus.
Daddy’s physique is strong again.
His mind is sharp.
His balance has returned.
His scars are healed.
He has a full head of blonde hair.
Although he can speak now, I’m sure he’s still a man of few words. I hope you remember Johnny Ray as strong, hardworking, and compassionate. Unafraid, wise, and pensive.
I was blessed to be with my Daddy in the final 48-hours of his life. They say the last thing to go is the hearing, so the incredible workers at Heartis encouraged me to keep talking.
So I did.
I thanked him for the trampoline he surprised us with one summer and for buying me the dual cassette jambox, which sparked my obsession with mixed tapes. I mentioned that I still have every piece of correspondence he ever sent me. This grand total is four. It includes the envelope which once held a check for gas money and a ripped-off piece of cash register tape with “Love JR” scrawled in bold, block letters. I told him I would be happy to teach the younger generation to fish, just like he taught me. Yes, I will take the catfish off the hook, but all bets are off if it’s stuck through the fish’s eyeball.
I told him I’d help take care of Mama. I told him Jamie would take over the mowing duties. I thanked him for walking me to my car every time I left the house. I thanked him for the sacrifices he made for us over the years and how proud I am that he managed his business for decades to provide for his family.
I cried as I remembered him perking up in his wheelchair when he saw me walk through his door at Heartis. He may not have technically known my name, but I was the nice lady who brought him a large Diet Coke from Sonic every other week!
When Pure Country comes out on Netflix, I will watch it. When fried catfish is served, I’ll eat it.
I whispered that he was a good daddy.
When I think of what it means to be a strong man, I’ll see his face. When I think of what it means to be a hardworking man, I’ll see his face. When I think of what it means to be a provider, determined, committed, selfless, resolute, generous, and devilishly handsome, I’ll see his face.
And when I feel a little sad, knowing he’s gone, I’ll remember how grateful I am that one day, I’ll see him again in heaven. And I recite 1 Peter 5:10, which says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Fully restored, on a lawnmower, making sure the family mansion’s grass is immaculate.