That’s the name Dad gave me when I was a teenager. I can’t remember the exact circumstances surrounding the nickname. I think it had something to do with teasing me about my first boyfriend. It wasn’t the mean kind of joking, but more the good-natured ribbing that let’s you know someone cares enough to help you not take yourself so seriously. But whatever the specifics of how it started, “Sweet” was the name that stuck. A few other people picked it up here and there, but for most, the name seemed was mismatched and awkward. But coming from Dad, it was more like a favorite pair of blue jeans … the kind that fit just right. I always imagined that it was his way of saying ‘I love you’ in a paired down ‘front porch’ sort of way.
But no one calls me “Sweet” anymore. In fact, I haven’t heard that name in nearly a decade… Not since my Dad’s booming voice and big personality was slowly eroded by a cruel disease.
PPA is the best diagnosis we have. A nice, neat triad of letters. Like they might be the name of a helpful app for your phone, or a company that provides home security or something. Much friendlier than Primary Progressive Aphasia. But even that doesn’t carry the weight of how it gripped my Dad… stealing his vocabulary, robbing his motor control, and nibbling away everything he once was, one tiny bite at a time over eight grueling years.
Show me, Lord, my life’s end,
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere hand-breadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
There’s a part of all of us that shuns end of life situations like the one Dad faced. We’d rather avoid them all together, choosing instead to turn away and close our eyes. That’s because facing the slow and steady decline of a loved one brings the reality of our own mortality into focus like nothing else. It’s a reflecting pool that few want to peer into for very long. Even with the best photo-shopping our modern technology offers, we can’t brush out the ravaging effects of age. And the face of a loved one in the throes of decline, drained of vitality, reminds us that this might also be the end that is ours. As one of my favorite authors put it, we slip out of this world “with all the limitations of a baby, but none of the loveliness.”
Perhaps that’s more fearful than death itself.
The loss of one’s very self. Unable to propel yourself forward… barred from accessing what’s behind.
My dad’s struggle is over. From the vantage point of earth, the disease won, stealing from him his last breath on January 24, 2019. But the Apostle Paul invites believers in Jesus to be freed from the chains of this terrestrial view and to grip firmly to a hope-filled eternal perspective.
“Set your minds on things above,” he says, “Not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Though the stabbing pain of loss threatens to drain us of strength and overwhelm us with sorrow, the promise of Christ is that victory of death is short-lived. First Corinthians 15 points to the grounded confidence of all believers: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:42-44)
Dad is gone from this world now. But his imprint lives on in me, and all who knew him. And though his absence is keenly felt, the hope that keeps us (and all who grapple with death) going is that our parting is only for a moment. We’ll be united again in the presence of our Savior in a place where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)
… and just maybe, when we arrive in the ‘place prepared for us’ by Jesus (John 14:2), I’ll smile a familiar smile when I hear someone call me ‘Sweet’ once again.