April 27, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) – I have been a pro-life advocate for as long as I can remember. In recent years, my passion for life has grown to include a deeper understanding that pro-life advocacy is about much more than abortion. “Pro-life” encompasses all life, a fact which became abundantly clear to me as I walked with my father in the culmination of his life’s journey – walked with him through the years of Alzheimer’s disease.
Let me tell you a bit about my father, Jim, who passed away three years ago. Dad was and remains a hero. He was a helicopter pilot in the Korean War where he flew rescue missions that saved the lives of countless soldiers. He was a brilliant student and later a leader in his industry. He was a husband, father and grandfather beyond description. All who encountered him, whether in their personal lives or in business, knew immediately that they had met a master – a truly honorable, kind, generous man of great depth and humility.
Dad dealt with life’s triumphs and hardships with a grace and peace we should all strive to imitate. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, this did not change. He accepted his particular hardship with the same faith and trust that guided his whole life. Together with my mom, he continued to teach all who met him. In fact, he continues to teach and guide us all today.
My family has formed a team to raise awareness of this disease and those families who suffer through it. It is named “Jim’s Journey” because our dad’s whole life was a faith-filled journey attesting to the dignity of the human person in all he did. His earthly journey completed, we know he continues to guide us from his eternal resting place. I know I speak for my family, too. One of my nieces commented, while dad was still with us, that, “We can still sense our Grandpa, our leader, our role model … underneath the skin, and no disease can ever take his spirit away.” Another of his grandchildren, after his death, said, “To this day, the lessons of his life continue to shape the pattern of my own … he taught me empathy and compassion … the meaning of loving sacrifice … humility in the midst of success.” We all learned so much from mom and dad our whole lives, perhaps never more than during his last few years.
Often, when we hear about Alzheimer’s disease, we hear of “the loss of dignity” or that our loved one “isn’t really there anymore.” I reject that characterization. No disease can take away a person’s humanity. Ask anyone who encountered my mom and dad during his illness; to a person they will attest to the dignity and beauty exhibited by the obvious and total self-giving love between my parents.
We all wish dad didn’t have to suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. And we will continue to do what we can to bring about a world without Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, Jim’s Journey continues, and we joyfully celebrate the gift that was his earthly life.
I close with this verse that so well captures the essence of dad’s life:
Heaven’s heroes never carve their name
On marbled columns built for earthly fame;
They build instead a legacy that springs
From faithful service to the King of Kings.
Requiescat in pace, Daddy.
Note: This article was taken from remarks by Pamela Muller Swartzberg given at the New Jersey chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association following the death of her father. Pamela contacted HLI America following the publication of Dr. Denise Hunnell’s article “Authentic Compassion” on the Truth and Charity Forum.