By the time I met him, signs were already there, albeit unrecognized. He had been described as a bit aloof, uncomfortable socially, a hesitant conversationalist. But that was OK. Like me, he had a wife who could carry a conversation, and we were comfortable just being along for the ride.
It was apparent that our children were quite fond of each other, and so the dreaded “get acquainted lunch” was scheduled. We were already in love with their daughter, and they with our son. It was an enjoyable lunch in a safe, public place, and I think we all knew that day that our lives and families were destined to be intertwined.
Not long after that first lunch, the symptoms became more pronounced and after months of tests, the fearful diagnosis came: early-onset Alzheimer’s. That was March of 2012 – he was 53.
By the time they were at our house for a few days in January 2013 for wedding dress shopping (the selections being more varied in Fort Worth than in Amarillo), his confusion made conversations difficult and public excursions tension-filled and frustrating.
So while the girls shopped, Larry and I stayed home, sharing burgers and a “Lord of the Rings” marathon; two naturally quiet fathers-in-law to be, making the most of the situation, secretly enjoying our escape from Bridal Boutique into Middle Earth.
Larry managed, accompanied by his Mrs., to walk his daughter down the aisle to marry our son June 8, 2013. With the help of friends and family keeping watch over him, he made it through the day. Six months later, he got to see his other daughter graduate from college.
He knew he was proud on both of those days, though I’m sure he had moments of uncertainty about the source of his pride.
On Monday, June 16, I wrote this post on Facebook:
“My friend Larry Landers, father of my precious daughter-in-law, won his battle with Alzheimer’s about 23 hours ago. Those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, as Larry did, will find that statement difficult. But the truth is that Larry has crossed the finish line victoriously while this disease stood helplessly by with no way to prevent him from stepping into eternal health, peace and joy. This is not goodbye. It is congratulations and we’ll see you in a little while.”
I was glad to hear, at his funeral service, stories about the man I never knew: the real Larry; the young man I would have enjoyed fishing and hiking with; the one whose brilliant mathematical mind I would have benefitted from; the one who knew that his life mattered to God and who brought up his daughters to know the same.
So many families have a “Larry”. I wrote this to encourage you to remember and celebrate the real person when you are weary of the one whose mind has been stolen by disease. There is still something special about your “Larry.”
Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association headquartered in Decatur.