“That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days.”

It’s getting harder and harder to find the humor in my father’s long farewell.

He can barely speak above a whisper now. He’s completely wheelchair-bound with overnight sitters, so he can stay in Assisted Living and avoid the dreaded Big House. And yet, he still managed to fall out of his wheelchair yesterday.

It’s getting harder to find the humor, but the humanity is abundantly evident. DooDaddy’s decline has been punctuated by precious moments of grace and benevolence. His positive outlook is a balm to those around him. Dennis, the chaplain at Shannondale, told me his job is to lift people’s spirits, but when he goes to visit Dad, it’s Dennis who comes out with a lighter heart. “Randy makes me feel like he is genuinely interested in me. He has that rare gift of truly listening.”

There’s an anxious little woman who wrings her hands and frets and lurks in the hallway at Shannondale. Drives the nurses and the other residents crazy with her aggressive neediness. She was hovering outside DooDaddy’s door recently when he was having a bad day. Seizure. Confusion. Aphasia. Repeat. He had suffered a spell of some sort at the lunch table and had to be taken back to his room. It was unsettling to everyone, especially Doris.

“I’m worried about Randy,” she told me in an urgent whisper. “We all love him so much.”

I don’t know what I’ll miss most about my father when he’s gone, but that ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world is pretty amazing. When Dad’s talking to you, he is completely engaged and delighted. I guess that’s why my brother, my sister and I were so starved for his attention when we were little. It was like standing in a special spotlight. Sometimes, the light could be harsh, but over the years it’s mellowed into a warm, benevolent glow.

On Father’s Day back in June, I was walking Henry Dog down Sutherland past Highland Memorial Cemetery when I heard a bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace.” It took me right back to my mother’s funeral, and it seemed as though she was calling Dad home. That was back when he still walked on a walker and could get up in the night without falling. Before he dreamed Mac was picking him up and tried to leave the building at 3 o’clock in the morning. Now my father wears an ankle bracelet that triggers an alarm. As if he could still walk out in the middle of the night.

As we mark his time in weeks and days rather than months, I’m trying to savor every small moment and tiny blessing. Mac and I watched UT’s opener against West Virginia with DooDaddy on Saturday. Ordered Domino’s and mixed up a bootleg screwdriver for The Doo, who happily imbibed and managed not to choke on the one piece of pizza he ate. He did have to wash it down with two bowls of applesauce. And I added his nightly Metamucil to the melting ice of his cocktail.

Rather than bemoan his situation, he enjoyed himself immensely. So did we.

I’m sorry DooDaddy won’t live to see our beloved Vols triumphant return to glory. But I feel certain he and Gmamma will be smiling down from Heaven and cheering them on. Without walkers and wheelchairs. Without pain and suffering. No heavy limbs or malignant tumors. No Old Age and all the cruel indignities it entails. Only light and love.

Go Big Orange!