This is the 29th post for our Write 31 Days series 31 Days of Miracles: Who is Our God. Today, Richard Leakey (see below for his bio) shares his story.
My Dad was an amazing man; unconditional love, humility and such a learner. He wasn’t perfect but he was real and genuine. The pile of humanity is me and my brothers wrestling once again with the man we could test our strength against. So many people told us stories when he passed. “I was in a tight spot. I didn’t know what to do. Your Dad turned up and prayed for me. God broke in.”
The photo above is Mum and Dad when he was deep into Alzheimer’s. Words can’t capture the horror of this disease that gradually strips away all you knew and leaves a shell. It’s like death by a thousand cuts. A hundred goodbyes when the person is still in the room. Teaching and realising the man who mentored you didn’t understand what you’d just said, watching the man who loved family shuffle out of the room because his brain couldn’t keep up. Despite this if I had one word to describe this season I would say beautiful.
One of those moments was giving back Dad’s allotment. We think he first had his own vegetable plot aged ten. More than sixty years later we stood in a small plot of land he had hired from the local council on his retirement and realised he had not managed to grow anything that year. Alzheimer’s sufferers have a typical behaviour called phasing. Simple tasks that were tacit, no longer have a brain connection to go with them. The brain tries desperately to understand what’s next. The person just stands and stalls. Getting dressed can take an hour. Dad phased his way through a whole growing season and did very little.
I flew home to help Mum close up the plot. None of us were looking forward to this.
Dad was at a stage where he could no longer follow abstract concepts but we felt it was at least important to talk to him about what we were doing. This usually involved a long and frustrating sentence by sentence wrestle. Not that morning. With Alzheimer’s there are golden moments when the person is suddenly back in the room with you. As Mum, Dad and I sat round the breakfast table to talk he was suddenly with us. Not the Dad we knew and loved but the man from a year earlier who understood. He was able to agree it was time to stop. What a relief, an unnecessary grace.
Emptying the garden shed of his tools, giving away plants and pots was deeply painful. I stood on the threshold of his second hand hut and wept. Returning the key to the simple lock rendered Mum and the co-renter speechless. How is God able to turn beauty into ashes in this place of defeat and loss?
He did though. My best solution was to create a couple of raised beds in the small garden of my parents’ house so Dad could at least potter in the soil. God’s was to give Dad a bigger allotment, friends and a place of ministry.
Unbeknownst to us just around the corner from Dad’s plot was a small charity Grow for Giving that had a double plot. Their vision is to accompany people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s and give them a therapeutic activity. As we gave back the keys God had prepared a solution for us and we discovered it almost simultaneously. Dad could be part of a community for hours every day. Where he was cared for and understood. Until he became too sick to leave the house he was able to go several times a week to garden.
Psalm 145 v 17 say the Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all he does. Experiencing that kindness in such a dark place was amazing. As I look back onto that season it feels like so many things have been realigned about who God is. In the midst of suffering he met us. Deep inside there was a sigh of relief, we’ll be OK. God is with us.
Richard Leakey was raised in the UK in a Christian home. His father was a pastor in the Anglican church. At 16, he got a calling in missions. He got a degree in agriculture and he and his wife Elaine joined YWAM. They’ve been in Switzerland with YWAM for seventeen years. Richard is now also seeing a dream come alive in different parts of Africa, helping subsistence farmers.
Five years ago, his father was diagnosed with Alzheimers. He died last summer in his parent’s living room. Here is the ministry that helped his father with gardening & memory care: Steps to Senior Care.
If you’d like to hear more of Richard’s story, visit the inspiring Re-Story podcast Mary DeMuth did with him in June this year.