How to love, and be loved

Published 6:29 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

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The words bounced between my heart and my brain. They were easy to comprehend, but yet hard to read through tear-filled eyes.

While taking a lunch break on Tuesday of last week – a day full of press deadlines to meet as we prepare the final news copy and ads for Wednesday’s R-C News-Herald and Thursday’s Gates County Index, meaning that lunch is consumed fairly quickly right here at my desk – I skimmed through Facebook. There – mixed in among a post about a friend’s birthday, two others that posted new (and tempting) recipes, and a friend sharing photos from their early Spring trip to the Outer Banks – was the following post shared by a friend (Warning…have a Kleenex tissue handy; or, in my case, the sleeve of a clean shirt):

“A son took his father to a restaurant to enjoy a delicious dinner. His father is quite old and, therefore, a little weak too. While eating, food occasionally fell on his shirt and pants. The other guests watched the old man with their faces contorted in disgust, but his son remained calm.

“After they both finished eating, the son quietly helped his father get up from the table and took him to the restroom. There, the son cleaned food scraps from his father’s face and attempted to wash the food stains on his clothes. He graciously combed his father’s gray hair and finally put on his glasses.

“As they left the restroom, a deep silence reigned in the restaurant. The son paid their bill but just before leaving, a man, also advancing in years, got up and asked the old man’s son, ‘Don’t you think you left something here?’

“The young man replied, ‘I did not leave anything.’

“Then the stranger said to him, ‘You left a lesson here for every son and a hope for every father.’

“The whole restaurant was so quiet you could hear a pin drop!

“One of the greatest honors that exists is being able to take care of those who have taken care of us. Our parents, and all those elders who sacrificed their lives with their time, money and effort for us, deserve our utmost respect.”

A little more than two months from now will mark the 20th anniversary of my dad closing the book on his life in the flesh and trying on his heavenly wings for the first time.

There’s not a day that passes where something will happen in my life that sparks a reminder of the Christian life he led. Ray Bryant wasn’t just my father, he was my mentor, my role model, my Sunday School teacher, my mechanic, my coach, and my best friend.

I can somewhat relate to the story of the son helping his aging father at the restaurant. However, the assistance I provided my dad over the 14 or so months leading up to his death on June 21, 2004 was, for the most part, out of the public’s eye, but it still gave me a sense of pride.

He was there for me when, as an infant, I soiled my clothing. He was there for me when, as a child, I learned how to catch and clean a fish, how to swing a bat and run the bases, how to defend myself, and how to love and be loved. After all, he taught me all those things, the most important of which is never letting a day go by without letting the people you are closest to in life know exactly how much you love them.

My heart was shattered upon learning that my dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. If that wasn’t a big enough bitter pill to swallow, we learned he also suffered from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). That’s a type of progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning, and independent function. To add to the dementia is a decline in the ability for one to move about. It also causes hunched posture, rigid muscles, and a shuffling walk.

Those latter three symptoms were present in the early stages of dad’s decline. As we took turns staying with and caring for him at that stage, we would have to walk behind him to ensure he wouldn’t fall.

I’d stand behind him as he rumbled through a drawer in his bedroom looking for, in his mind, a letter he was writing to the pastor of our church. After 5-to-10 minutes of searching, he pulled out the operating/maintenance instructions to his riding lawnmower. I didn’t alert him otherwise, only offering words of encouragement that he could now finish his letter.

As his condition worsened, dad was confined to a bed in a spare bedroom. In an effort to assist my mom, family members (most of them who lived within “hollering” distance) would cook, clean, and help her with taking care of dad during the week. On weekends, my sister, brother, and I took turns performing those chores.

There isn’t knowledge offered in a book or manual, or online advice/instruction that can prepare a son or daughter to care for an aging/sick parent. You act instinctively, just as a mother/father will immediately jump into action when their child is in need.

I found myself doing things I would never dream of, but this was my dad. Your brain stops with that thought and you move forward with the task at-hand.

So, yes, I can relate – and more – to the son helping his dad at the restaurant. It’s what we’re supposed to do; it’s engrained in our brains from childhood, watching them attend to the needs of our grandparents and other elderly family members.

I mentioned earlier in this column about being taught how to love and be loved. Those emotions kick in at the precise moment they are needed, just as my dad had prepared me to do so.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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