Have you ever flipped through old photos? Many times I don’t recognize the people whose picture I captured years ago.

People pass in and out of our lives. We move. We change jobs or churches. We no longer have common interests. Sometimes a death occurs. With the result that a photo taken years ago no longer has any meaning.

Mike and I recently moved in with my mom (and they say millennials don’t want to leave home!). Part of our preparation involved consolidating forty years of photographs into a manageable amount. As we neared the end of the Great Photo Purge, I came across a picture of an old man in a wheelchair with a black cat in his lap. The man’s white, thinning hair wasn’t brushed. His puffy jowls hung down, obscuring the collar of his flannel shirt. His eyes were unfocused, seemingly oblivious to the animal warming his legs. Who was this old man?

aging loved oneWith a shock, I realized it was my dad.

The photo was taken by his caregiver a few weeks prior to his death. How could that old guy be my father? In my mind’s eye, he was forty years old, thin, wearing a huge smile as I regaled him with my childish patter.

My dad’s physical changes happened so slowly I didn’t notice that as he gradually gained more and more water weight, he shrank more and more into himself. His constant physical pain turned him into a sad, angry man. His body had betrayed him, and he hated it.

If you are caring for an aging loved one, I encourage you to remember what he or she looked like before illness and age has crept up. Remember their personality prior to becoming weighted down with pain.

If you’re a non-family caregiver, try looking at photos taken during happier and healthier times. Try to relate to the person who used to be.

As for my dad, I will always remember the way he was when he would pop through my back door, poke his head in, and ask, “Got any coffee for me?”