My father-in-law, Doug, passed away last weekend. After a 5-year battle with Alzheimer’s, pulmonary embolisms, congestive heart failure, some mini-strokes, and even Covid, he finally passed on at aged 84.
His strength through those years, and all the years I knew him, was amazing. With each setback, the doctors were stunned that he had come back. Each one of the events that he experienced probably should have killed him, but he just fought back to live another day, week, month, and year. Each time, we were all grateful to have him for longer.
My wife, Lisa, her sister, Lori, and I have been taking care of him for the last two years. Quite honestly, though, it is Lisa and Lori who have been taking care of him. They put their lives on hold to take care of the man they loved so much, and they are glad they did.
While there were numerous moments where I said to them, “I think this is too much for you guys. This is not your expertise. I think he needs to be in a home,” they said that they were fine, and when the time came where they could not handle it, we would explore that option.
It never came.
Those two worked tirelessly to take care of Doug, doing things for him that we have each said we never want our kids to have to do for us.
Yet, they wanted to do it. They knew they were providing for him what he wanted — a chance to stay in the home he loved so much through the years and not be in a nursing home. It was also a chance for him to spend the last years of his life with his daughters who he loved so much.
Of course, there were tough moments and battles and harsh words at times. Alzheimer’s does that to people.
But more than anything there was love.
Grateful & Glad
When Lisa and I first moved from Montana to Georgia to take care of him two years ago, he said to Lisa numerous times, “I don’t need your help,” when he was not happy that she was making him do something the doctors said he had to do.
That attitude persisted at times almost to the end, even when both Lisa and Lori had to lift him out of bed, onto and off of a portable toilet or into his EZ chair, and all that goes with the territory of caregiving in this manner. It was the Alzheimer’s rearing its ugly head in this once strong and feisty man who had never needed any help in his life before.
But then over the last 6 months, more than anything, what Lisa and Lori heard was this — “I’m so glad I have you two here with me. There’s no way I would want to be in a home having someone else doing this.”
They knew they were doing the right thing for him. . . and for them.
How many of us would give anything to spend that kind of time with our kids long after they have grown up, moved away, and been gone so many years?
How many of us would give anything to spend that kind of time with our parents one more time after they are no longer with us?
My parents died in their 90s three and six years ago. I’d give anything to have them back and to be able to spend that kind of time with them again. I imagine many of you feel the same way.
A Better Place
We have all been saying about Doug that he is now in “a better place.” It is something that many of us say about our loved ones when they pass away.
We say it for a variety of reasons, but mainly because we want so badly for them to now be better off than when they were here going through the pain of whatever ailed them at the end of their lives.
Life brings us all kinds of pain at different times in our lives. This is often especially true for older people, as they have ailments that hurt and that prevent them from doing the things they used to do and that they want to do.
So we often say after they have passed away that they have moved on to a better place, especially those who have been in some great pain.
No matter your beliefs and spirituality, there is great comfort in believing that our loved ones are no longer suffering and that they have moved on to something better.
Making it Better Here
But what about while we’re here on earth?
Why not do all that we can to make this a better place?
Why not do all that we can to leave this world better than when we entered it?
I know that this world is better for having Doug in it.
First of all, his wife’s life was better because of him. They had the kind of love for one another that authors write bestselling books about. From the moment they met the night before their freshman year of college until the day she passed away six years ago, they were completely devoted to one another. We should all be so lucky to have that kind of relationship with our spouse.
Second, his kids are living proof of him making the world a better place. While his son Paul lives far away, he called regularly to check in on his dad through the years, see how he was doing, and offer what kind of help and love he could from afar. Lori, my sister-in-law, is all about service to others. She puts the needs of everyone else before her own in every situation she encounters. She is the ultimate “teammate,” and everyone is better for having Lori in their lives. Lisa, my wife, is the one in the family most like Doug. I chose her as the person I wanted to spend my life with for a reason. Strong, committed, smart, and as loving and caring as anyone you will ever meet, she is everything a husband would want in a wife. She is my rock. She makes me want to be a better man for her and for the world. Doug’s kids have followed in their mother’s and father’s footsteps and done so much to make the world a better place.
Third, Doug made his grandkids’ lives better. He helped raise Maggie as a young girl, providing love, support, and lessons about right and wrong. Sammie & Jonathan came next, learning similar types of life lessons that would guide them through life into their young adult lives now. And though Morgan grew up far across the country, every time he got to be with his grandpa, he learned first-hand lessons on work ethic, passion for a project, and seeing it through ’til it was complete. Each of his grandkids have taken what he provided for them and applied it to instances in their own lives, helping them be prepared for what life will throw at them.
Doug also did so much for others in his life here on earth. Many of the stories that his sister and his brothers have told me about him through the years bear that out. He was also a self-taught master craftsman when it came to woodworking and building. He just read about how to do something, figured it out, and then did it, all without the benefit of Google, YouTube, or the Internet. While he built a lot of things for his own house, he built many more things for others. From family members to neighbors to his church to friends in his RV club, Doug built all kinds of things and did many other projects to help make life a little easier for them or just to make them feel a little better.
Finally, Doug made my world a better place. Of course, the most obvious way he did this is by bringing Lisa into the world. But he also helped me in many of the ways that I listed above — projects at our house when he would come visit, lessons that he taught while telling stories (many of which were the same ones I heard time and time again after he had Alzheimer’s!), and the example that he set for what it means to be a husband, father, and man in this world. More than anything, though, Doug became a friend. While I was certainly his son-in-law, he treated me more like a friend than anything else. We shared many a laugh together, and I will forever cherish the time I got to spend with him.
What about you?
Are you working to leave the world a better place when you leave it?
Are you doing all that you can to have those in your life look back on you fondly and say that you left the world a better place than when you entered it?
The bigger question, though, is “Why wait until you leave?”
Why not get started right now at making the world the best it can be?
Sure, we all want to make sure that we do this for ourselves, and we should.
But when we start focusing on making the world a better place for everyone else, when we focus on others and not on ourselves, that’s when we take our first steps and our biggest steps to making this world, the one that we are living in right now, a better place.
Life is so much fuller and so much more gratifying when we focus on others and on helping others have the best life and experience than when we focus solely on helping ourselves have those kinds of experiences.
What are you doing to help your students and athletes have the best experience possible? How many of them will say that you made their world better by you being in it?
Do all that you can right now to make sure that when you leave a place, everyone feels that their lives are better because of you. That will be your greatest legacy.
Thanks, Doug, for making my world and the world of all those you touched in your life a better place.