Everyone has moments in their lives that remain vivid in their memory. This story is one of my moments. You might need kleenex; I still do.
The Hand Shake
In August of 2004 Maxine and I went to Chicago to attend a wedding. We decided to take a few days for vacation and continue DePere, WI to see my cousin Marilynn. Her husband had passed away in July and all of us needed to share hugs again. Marilynn had invited me to attend a preseason Packer’s game. I was looking forward to the thrill of seeing a game at Lambeau Field.
A few years earlier Marilynn decided to retire from her job as an occupational health nurse. She then took her parents into her home and spent her time caring for them. Her father was suffering from dementia. Her mother was still self-sufficient but unable to expend the energy to care for a dementia patient.
Marilynn’s dad, Art, was my favorite uncle. He had been a mentor and guide. As I grew up, he was the key figure in the development of my spiritual life. He always put people first, ahead of work. He was a member of many committees and organizations. He was always doing something to help make his corner of the world a better place. I aspired to be like Uncle Art.
A few years earlier, before the dementia became severe, I stopped at Uncle Art’s farm for a short visit on the way home from a business trip to Chicago. He struggled with short-term memory, but he could recall growing up in Story County Iowa. I knew bits and pieces of those times from stories my dad had told. I asked Uncle Art questions about those days. He told me several stories. I learned stories about my dad that I had never heard. That visit was the last time we would be able to have story telling session.
Whenever I walked into Marilynn’s house, Uncle Art would look up and smile at me. Something he didn’t always do when people entered a room. Although he could no longer communicate, I thought he recognized me. I was his first nephew. He spoiled me and we always had a close relationship.
My wife Maxine was a nurse and volunteered to stay with Uncle Art and Aunt Lois while Marilynn and I went to the Packer’s game. We went with another couple and had a great time. There is no place like the hallowed tundra of Lambeau Field and the excitement of a football game. The Packer’s lost to Seattle 3 to 21. But it was just a pre-season game. The Pack would be back.
Every morning Uncle Art was helped on a bus and was taken to an adult center for dementia patients. He shuffled along as he went to the bus, never indicating he recognized any of us. The morning we were leaving to return home I was sitting in the kitchen; Marilynn’s favorite room in a home. Marilynn was guiding Uncle Art through the house and toward the bus. As he came through the kitchen, we both looked at each other and smiled. Then Uncle Art stopped and turned toward me. He stuck out his hand for a handshake. I stood up, walked across the kitchen, and shook his hand. That was the last time I would see Uncle Art alive. He passed away in November.
I will always believe that in spite of his dementia, Uncle Art knew I was leaving and he knew we would not see each other again. I will always believe it was the Holy Spirit at work. I shall always remember the smile and the handshake of that day.