This weekend, my mom had to be admitted to the hospital for some intense stomach pains. They still don't know what is wrong with her, so she will be there for awhile longer as they do more and more tests. That's been difficult enough, but my sisters and I are now taking care of our dad, who is at a particularly horrible place with his Alzheimer's disease. His mind has invented some awful, angry, violent memories---things that never happened but which he thoroughly believes are true. I had yet to experience one of these episodes, but he had one on Friday morning when I went out to his house to bring him to spend the day with me. I won't share the details here, but it was ugly. In the face of it all, I felt desolate and sad and very, very alone. Learning how to live without your dad in your life and how to cope with the stranger put in his place is something that I don't have the language to explain. As I drove away from his house, one of my favorite Christmas carols, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" came on the radio. But everything felt too painful. Tidings of comfort and joy? How could those ever come to me again?
Dad ran some errands with me, and then we went home to put Kaleb down for his nap. I needed to get some baking done for a Christmas party we had to go to that evening, so I asked him what he wanted to do. "Well, I want to read one of those books you do. Those books you make?"
"Do you mean you want to look at a scrapbook?" I tried to clarify.
"I think that is what I mean. Those things you make." That he even had a vague memory of me making scrapbooks brought a little bit of comfort to me, especially since during his episode he didn't even know who I was.
"OK," I said, and ran downstairs and got the fattest scrapbook from the shelf, which just happens to be Nathan's baby-year scrapbook.
He sat in my front room with the book on his lap. And he read every single layout in the album. Reading is hard for him, but he read them. I worked in the kitchen, and every once in awhile he'd say something about the scrapbook. "This is very well-written," he said, and "I love how you wrote this."
Maybe this is pathetic of me, to feel...well, to feel proud of my writing, as it was complimented by a man whose brain is slowly deteriorating. But I still did. Maybe you never grow out of your need to please your dad. And for a little while, it felt like having him back again. My dad and my sister Becky are the only ones who ever really read my scrapbooks---anyone else who looks at them just looks at the pictures. So to have him recognize, at whatever level, whatever small amount of "good" might be in my journal? Well. It was the opposite swing of the pendulum, the high point of a day made up of one of my life's lowest points.
And as difficult and as painful as this experience is, as much as it is teaching me of razor blades being dragged across the fleshiest part of the soul, it always manages to turn around and teach me something good, too. I finished my work in the kitchen before he finished the album---he had only a few pages left, so we read them together. He closed the book and said, with a serenity in such opposition from his earlier agitation, "you are so smart to write this all down. You are smart because one day maybe you'll be like me and can't remember anything, but then you can read this and you can remember it anyway." What other confirmation do I need that the attention I pay to scrapbooking is important and relevant? And that my own scrapping philosophy---that scrapbooking is about matching pictures up with words as well-wrought as possible, and all the rest, the products and the tools and the publishing and the paint and ink and paper and ribbon, are incidental---is the absolutely right one for my life.
As I sat on the arm of the chair in my front room next to my dad, reading a layout about a trip to the park Nathan had as a newly-mobile baby, I had a scripture tickling at my psyche. After I took Dad to my sister's house so that we could go to that Christmas party, I looked it up. This comes from an LDS book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. I could only remember the part about after a challenge, blessings come. But the scripture in its entirety was just the tiding of comfort I needed:
For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.
Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.
For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.
Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:2-5
I remembered hearing that carol in the car---turning off the carol in the car, as a tiding of comfort seemed impossible. But there it was: my tiding. And maybe the greatest tiding of comfort is that through all of this, my belief that God is good continues to be strengthened.