Today is the third anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. Sadly, this good, good man did not have a gentle passage from this world.

In one of their last conversations, my father-in-law told Mama Goof:

Quiero un caballo.

What kind of horse, Daddy?


Why do you want a yellow horse?

Para ir a mi casa.

But we couldn’t take him home.My father-in-law, one of the best men I’ve ever known (and I’ve known my share of the great and the good), was losing his mind.

Papa (his daughters called him Daddy, but I called him Papa) was well taken care of. He couldn’t stay at home, his wife and sister couldn’t care for him. His children placed him in a comfortable assisted living home. They found a caretaker for him who did everything in his power to make their beloved Papa comfortable.The caretaker came from a place where the elderly are revered and he cared for Papa as though it were his own father.At the funeral, the caretaker shed many tears.

But the loving care could only be a palliative in a lousy situation.

Did he know who we were?

He wasn’t speaking much.He mumbled a bit in Spanish, a word here and a word there were clearThe little Goofs were wonderful.They never complained about visiting abuelo and were never uncomfortable around him. They hugged him and kissed him.They puttered around in the big yard at the home.GoofGirl picked grapefruits off the trees and GoofBoy played pool with some of the other residents.

Abuelo made regular circuits around the yard — his caretaker knew he had to move at least a little every day.The little Goofs walked with him.GoofBoy “played” ball with him.GoofGirl drew a picture for a school assignment with the caption, “I helped my abuelo walk.”

With Alzheimer’s the mind goes.But does the soul remain?

Papa worked hard his whole life. Sitting still was never an option for him.As long as he was able at the home he puttered in the yard picking up leaves and shredding them.And he scouted the yard for things to disassemble.The caretaker would laugh and tell us, “He’s looking at the water outlet and hoses for his next attack.”

Still, without tools he couldn’t really get to work.He tore apart his bed on a regular basis — frustrated and for something to do.

One time, I saw a gleam in his eye as some workmen opened up the shed in the yard.Papa knew if he could just get into that shed, he would find the tools he needed and maybe even his caballo amarillo.Then he could go home.

I won’t post pictures from the home, they are too said for me. I prefer to remember him strong, vigorous, and smiling — while working in the yard or sipping Moxie Blue Cream soda his son-in-law bought at a joke. We really only had one (and later three) things in common. But we got each other ok.

Originally published at on February 21, 2016.

AAAS Policy Fellow, formerly @UMIACS (specializing in international security), did a PhD on vice presidents, interested in a lot of stuff