It was a short, easy read and actually beautifully written. Patti has a passion for writing and it shows. There were things I loved about the book and some things which I didn't agree. But I found nothing that I hated like I thought I would. I was wrong about what I thought she would write.
There were two things I was struck by most profoundly. One was Patti's obvious deep remorse at the way she behaved during her father's Presidential term. She berated him, stood with his "enemies", loathed his policies and campaigned against him. There was a chasm between her and her parents miles wide and every bit as deep. I remember her during these years and I often wondered then, as did most Americans who followed politics, how in the world a daughter could do this to her father. It was heart-breaking. But just as heart-breaking all these years later is her very apparent remorse over it. Thank God a healing transpired from those terrible years with his daughter, before the president died. He knew it and she needed it.
The other thing that was so vividly apparent throughout the entirety of her writing was her father's deep Christian faith and love of our Lord. Now I always knew Ronald Reagan was a Christian. I never for one moment believed it was for show, like so many other politicians like to pretend. Most American politicians, even still today, know they must show a respect for God and the Bible if they are to get anywhere in the world of politics. Faith in God is still deeply ingrained into our culture regardless of what a biased, liberal media wants us to believe. We want our politicians to have faith; therefore sometimes we see phony faith. I knew this was never the case with President Reagan. I did not know, however, just how rooted his faith actually was. And never in my wildest imagination did I believe Patti Davis would ever write about that faith. I was wrong. She did and she did it beautifully.
Now I have no idea if Patti Davis has ever made a commitment to Jesus, our Lord. I have no idea what is in her heart. With some, like Ronald Reagan, it is apparent. But there are some I would never venture to judge. I guess Patti Davis would be in that category. I believe she is wrong about certain things, but what I do know, is her father taught her about Jesus and she listened and remembers fondly the important things he taught her. This faith and our God permeated this book from start to finish. It was the paramount subject of her book if one is to read carefully and acutely her words.
With that preface, now I just want to talk about her book; the things I gleaned from it, and why I finally picked up the book in the first place. And probably a bit about my own experiences.
Alzheimer's - The Disease that Steals
As I said earlier, it is the title The Long Goodbye that was mostly what drew me to this book. The other, was the man - Ronald Reagan. I knew of his long battle with Alzheimer's and I wanted to see how the family dealt with this dreadful disease. And now I would like to share a few messages that I gleaned from this book.
One came early in the second chapter. Patti speaks of ones memory having "pockets of time" that are unaffected by this disease. For her father, these pockets held hymns and prayers, probably Bible verses as well. Below is what she said when she had observed him perfectly citing the Lord's Prayer one day while sitting in church:
" They are his treasures; they always have been - the shiny stones he turns over in his hand, keeping them polished and smooth. I closed my eyes for a moment as I sat between my parents and prayed that he will always be able to recite the Lord's Prayers, always recall a hymn. I asked God to keep his treasures safe."
In the same chapter, she speaks of making friends with death. I am not in agreement with her on this. One of the things that made me slightly cringe while reading was her source and her feelings that death is our constant companion that travels on our left shoulder.
"I feel, in my conversations with my mother that we are both making friends with this shadowy presence, this unwelcome guest. Because the enemy-the true messenger of terror-would be the full progression of Alzheimer's. I never want to see the day when my father stands up in church and is unable to remember the Lord's Prayer. I would rather watch him turn toward his left shoulder and say, "All right, I'm ready now."
Now that is exactly how I feel, except rather than see him look to his left shoulder at death, I would want to see him reach his hands toward heaven and say those words. "All right, I am ready now."
Still, there is a powerful lesson in her story when one feels one is spinning out of control headed down a drain of dementia or Alzheimer's and losing all that one wants a loved one to hold on to.
Something else she wrote, I clung to not so much because it was about the President's disease, but rather it was about how he lived his life. It was especially touching to me, because it was a lesson my dad had also taught me. Patti had asked her mom, Nancy Reagan, how her dad could have come through all the antics of Hollywood and then DC with his "innocence still intact".
"He never really participated in the Hollywood lifestyle....He did his work and left. He kept his dreams alive, and his innocence, by never giving too much away, by holding enough of himself in reserve so that no one could tarnish what he held dear."
Now there is some sage advice. It was exactly how my parents lived their lives. They never allowed anyone to tarnish what they held dear. Oh, if we could only teach our children to live in this way. But not only does one need to hold oneself in reserve, one also needs to be prepared to stand, all the while understanding the balance that is required as well. Ronald Reagan did and so did my folks. Never give too much away of oneself - there will come a time one needs something for oneself.
Achans in the Camp
One thing Patti wrote that I strongly disagree with is something that may not be all that important, but it is important to me. And I will admit it is controversial. Patti says in her final chapter that she believes it is no accident who is there in the final moments when someone dies. She had often wondered who it would be in the room when her dad took his last breath. She believes it to be ordained of God. I suppose there is some truth in her belief, but I also believe that this is something that could be controlled by someone, or even stolen from another. This can be human directed and orchestrated; by a medical team, by family, or anyone who chooses to take things into their own control. It can change everything for someone, while another may pride themselves that they were the ones that got to be there.
There are some things in life that just are not that concrete, though we like to pretend they are. Some Christians believe God pulls every little string to make things happen as He wants. I don't believe that and never have. The truth is we live in a fallen world. People's actions change things through choices they make, but we like to say it is God. Not necessarily. Just as Achan stole from the camp and it effected the whole camp, (Joshua 7) things are stolen from our lives every day. It is mostly due to man's fallen nature. The very biggest and most important part of God's sovereignty is the free will. Yes, His giving of free will is the biggest part of His sovereignty and in that, we do things all the time to mess up God's plan. Fortunately what Satan meant for evil God can turn to good. I say that here only to say God is not the author of all that is so difficult in our lives. I just don't believe it. Never have and never will. I really do not understand how the world would not be angry at God if it were any other way. Our own choices through our own free will is the only answer for those who question the atrocities of life.
And honestly the other thing is we forget that God has created an order to things. Some things are simply occurring within that order. Like gravity and the laws of nature. Those are God's design; He will not change those things outside of a miracle.
The Finish Line
One of the most difficult things for me in this book, was Patti's observation about how the Reagan family journeyed into accepting and even looking for the death that would inevitably come. There is guilt that comes from wanting the release; desensitization that comes from having to consider it, discuss it, think about it and sometimes even long for the end to come to free a loved one from his pain. Patti began to look at it as a beginning. There is nothing wrong in that. But the waiting, the anxiety, the fear and exhaustion...the guilt from looking at death as a release can be overwhelming. It simply feels wrong, like there is something wrong with you! But for Patti and the Reagan family they came to understand that the only way to maintain dignity "with a disease like Alzheimer's is if death beats it to the finish line." In that case, there is nothing wrong with wanting death to win...especially when one knows where the loved one is going...if we truly believe that.
It is normal to have guilt for wanting sweet release; craving an easy passage. Guilt seems normal in not knowing how to pray that through. What a challenge that presents.
It is normal to have guilt for wanting sweet release; craving an easy passage. Guilt seems normal in not knowing how to pray that through. What a challenge that presents.
I don't claim to understand all there is about Alzheimer's. I suppose I have been only remotely connected with it. But it helps to read another's words who has been dealt the blow of the declining health of parents and who has experienced the same difficult tasks and feelings. I get a bit frustrated with those that think they understand Alzheimer's well, unless they have actually taken care of someone with Alzheimer's. And that means their day in and day out care....most often for years! One cannot grasp the full weight of that burden from 1000 miles away and a weekly phone call or two.
Patti Davis obviously understood it. She understood it as a daughter losing her father, and one that was able to be there more often than most people who may have family on one coast with the other party on the other coast. Patti was fortunate that her dad had the best care that money could buy, so I suspect she and her family missed a lot of worry that money affairs might also bring into the equation. Needless to say Alzheimer's is an extremely difficult disease on a number of levels. Thank God for the things that make it easier.
Her writing doesn't tell us that much about the disease or the trials it entails. Her words are more a tender portrayal of what it feels like to lose someone you love. Therein is the importance of this book, in my opinion. It is definitely worth the read, on so many levels. Patti Davis can write. And in her writing she provokes thought. But most of all, whether she intends to or not, she shares God; and the faith of a man who understood God as the most important part of his being. Jesus is the only thing that gets us through any of the difficulties in life.
I guess I don't know if everything is truly healed for Patti Davis. I hope so. But I found myself wondering why she took her mother's maiden name rather than her father's, showing a lack of pride and maybe even disdain for his highly respected name. I suspect she took her mother's name in anger during those terrible, rebellious years, but I don't understand why she would not want to honor her father's name now and take it as her own as author of this book. She still is unable to understand her father's politics. Unable to admit she was wrong about any part of hers, - even after all the great things this man did for our nation...proving his politics were most certainly correct. She still maintains she differs. That's ok, I guess if she is trying to stay true to who she believes she is. But she is wrong about who America is and has always been throughout our history. Though she now has a respect and love for America's people because of what she saw at her father's death, she still believes the false narrative that America is an Imperialistic nation trying to control the world. That is, she believed it at the time she wrote this book, maybe that has changed by now, as well. But all that aside, there is no doubt she loved her dad and the moments she had with him in his final days should be enviable for us all. Truly she has remorse for lost moments and she wants people to understand that. I suspect she hopes to prevent that from happening to others.
The Journey of Decline
Neither of my folks had/have Alzheimer's, but I believe any decline in a parent is a difficult passage. As with any aging person my folks have had some of the same ailments - hearing loss, loss of memory, difficulty in finding the right words, other communication problems and trouble with fine motor skills. Most of those are normal to aging, but they still present a challenge for both parties - the caregiver and the patient.
Most of the duties in taking care of my folks in their latter days has fallen to me and my older sister, i.e. doctor appointments, medical needs, bills, banking...stuff like that. Thank God I have a sister who also helps with daily care. Some families are all alone. Some parents are all alone. There is so much heartbreak in that. My sister and I try to bring everyone in the family into any important decisions that need to be made. My parents wanted that. But ultimately we are still orchestrating their lives by their own rules and preferences. We have always done what they wanted and expected.
Sometimes their needs are at odds with our own lives; it often interrupts, adds stress, and takes away time from our own families. Sometimes it is middle of the night ER calls. Sometimes it is simply an outing to try to bring some fun back into their lives. It often involves explaining and smoothing rough waters. Lately, it is difficult to know where to draw the line of how much we should do. Where should the sacrifice end when ones own family is suffering? Those are the difficult questions of late. We are tired, too. Sometimes I feel robbed of the soothing salve of grief that I should be able to have in the loss of my mom. The weight of it all is pressing down more and more. Life in general is becoming more and more arduous.
Through it all, sometimes I have been too busy doing all the necessary work for their care that I have forgotten to enjoy the moment. That is something that I regret in the case of my mom. Like Patti, I have regrets, too. Now that it is only my dad, I still forget to enjoy those moments. It is certainly not intentional. It is simply the busyness of the job. I forget to remember the man my dad once was. I forget to pray that he will never forget the words to a favorite hymn, like Patti prayed. I forget to look at his hands and remember the strength that was once held there. I forget to hold onto the sparkle of a laugh that reflects in his mostly now tired eyes. I hurry about. I die within. I lose patience and stumble over words and make things worse. I say "huh" too many times, frustrating him, when it may be better to simply let him believe that I heard and that I agree. I cannot enjoy the moment, because I do not know what is next and I don't know if I will have strength for whatever it is. I forget to take a "drink from my canteen" while on this journey, but sometimes it is only because I don't know where to find the dang canteen. Sometimes I shake it, only to find it empty.
I don't think Patti had to deal with the day to day challenges like my sister and I have had to. Her dad was on one coast and she was on the other. But what I do know, is in the pages of that book she revealed the best of who her father was. There is not one negative word about him. There is nothing that is disrespectful, no secrets revealed, no lines crossed, the world is not let into what the world should not know. I have the utmost respect for her for that. That is true love. Her remorse is palpable, but more than that, so is her love.
One of the most poignant moments for me, is when Patti tells us that she is a child of a man who believed in pausing for sunsets. He demonstrated this to her often throughout their life together. Remembering that, in a final moment of her dad's life she paused on the beach to watch a sunset and say a prayer for her dad. "Help me make my father's passage easy," she prayed.
I want that for my dad's life, too. I desperately want his passage easy. But also, I want "pausing for sunsets" to be part of my life, just as it was for Ronald Reagan's. There is goodness in that. I really believe that. I don't think I learned this as a child like Patti did. I do believe I finally learned it from my son. "Come see the sky, Mama", he would often say to me. "Look at the fingernail moon, Mom," he would call. Throughout his life as a child at home he would encourage me to slow down and look - to pause to enjoy the beauty of the moment. I always stopped to look when he called. It is the one thing I feel I did right. But I haven't done it enough of late. I am in a hurry. I run and don't feel. I am tired and frazzled and trying to get too much done in too little time. Life is passing me by; decisions are many and sometimes they begin to feel undirected and difficult. I hate that! The lack of control of my own life is something I must guard against resentment. Resentment is what "sits on my left shoulder" and I am not about to make friends with him. I continue to try to swat him away.
But mostly, I want to be someone who pauses for sunsets, like Ronald Reagan was. I want to teach that to others, like our 40th President did and like his daughter Patti Reagan Davis speaks of in her book. One thing we know; most of the time, when we run for the camera to catch the beauty in the early evening sky, by the time we get back the sunset has changed and almost gone in just seconds of time. Sunsets disappear just that quickly. I want to learn to pause and soak it all in and say a prayer as Patti did on the beach that day. Because the sun is setting fast in the life of one I care about, but it is also setting in mine.