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Amazing Grace


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My father, Ragon Flannery, died in my arms in a San Diego hospital bed. He left behind a body beaten, broken and bruised from a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s. He also left a legacy that’s been handed down to a family that loved and cared for him until he took his final breath.

“The Rev,” as so many of his church members and friends called him, was born a Kentucky hillbilly and raised on discipline, compassion and bluegrass music. His mother played banjo. His sister dated Bill Monroe. It doesn’t get more bluegrass than that. He also was raised on love and was taught to treat others with dignity and grace—be it the man in a $600 suit or the homeless man looking for a handout. He ministered at churches all over the country, but Anaheim is where we spent 20 years, and where I grew up.

I could talk at length about the last few years of his life. The changes that started taking place that we all noticed—and he noticed for a time, too. I could tell the stories of his last grueling year, stories only caregivers can understand, or believe. It was a year during which we watched helplessly as he slipped deeper and deeper into the black hole of Alzheimer’s. Finally, surrendering, we placed my father in a home for Alzheimer’s patients, a place where professionals could try their best to help him.

Instead of telling you about the horrors of the disease, I want to tell you about the miracles. Sure, 1999 became the hardest year of my life. I cried plenty. But in the middle of all the madness, there were incredible lessons and unbelievable gifts.

Spending the final days of my father’s life with him, I learned what it was like to change his diaper, to hold him up as we took baby steps, to bathe him. I gave back to him those gifts he had given me, and in doing this I felt the power of the circle of life. It would change my views forever about life and about death.
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