October 1st, today, marks my father's 75th birthday. Sadly, it isn't the 75th birthday that I quite envisioned for him, as he is currently dealing with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
I will admit, this has been tough on me. My dad always enjoyed good health and an active lifestyle, and it's been rough seeing him lose weight at a rapid pace and be unable to move without the aid of a walker; in most cases he needs a wheelchair.
Yes, I am aware that I am mortal. I know that I will one day die. But it's an abstract concept that most of us, I assume, brush to the back of our minds. To spend your time dwelling on your own demise is not a healthy way to live -- the act of living, and of enjoying life while I'm at it, is what keeps those thoughts at bay.
My father's illness has shifted things a bit. I am confronted with mortality in a very real sense, watching an incurable and fatal disease work its will on a man that I respect and love with every fiber of my being.
Like I said, it's been tough.
I've also had to confront the typical reactions, faith-wise, of such a situation -- why him, God? What did he do to deserve such a fate? Don't you care? Those sorts of things. Yes, I'm angry. I'm heartbroken. I'm confused. But faith helps ease those stings -- the belief that, when all is said and done, he will be in a much better place. The relief that, as far as incurable diseases go, this one is relatively painless, and his mind is still his own.
What I had not anticipated, though, was my father's good cheer. Not that I was expecting doom and gloom, of course -- I'm just not sure I'd be in such good spirits if it was me. But I remember talking to him on the phone when he told me he had ALS: "Aaron, I'm seventy-five years old! And it seems a pretty fitting way for this Yankees fan to go out."
And that, right there, is what helps me the most -- his peace with his situation. Yes, every child loses their parents at some point. I'm nearly 32; a lot of sons don't get that much time. But I will admit, I am greedy, and want my dad around as long as possible. As my wife wisely points out, that's all well and good, but it wouldn't do to sacrifice the quality of life for quantity. And since I only live about 25 miles away, I'm able to still see him regularly.
So let me just wish my dad a happy 75th birthday. Will he make it to his 76th? I don't know. I hope so, but I'm not going to push the issue. But in a funny sort of twist, I find that my father has given me a gift.
He's given me hope.
If you're at all interested in learning more about ALS and what you can do to help fight it, check out www.als.net