Ronald Reagan in 1994 announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But I really didn’t know much about it.
I knew of my paternal grandmother slipping out of her room at a nursing home and wandering the country roads. Years passed and I remember feeling a bit scared of an uncle who didn’t recognize me at a dinner. I heard of dementia symptoms and troubling experiences of uncles and aunts on both sides of my parents. My father was always fearful he would get it–his mother had it and a number of his siblings. He never got it but died of cancer instead in 2009.
We never thought our mother would get it. She never talked about being afraid of getting it even though a beloved sister apparently had it. But she did get it.
She was strong physically but the disease slowly took over and the mother we knew gradually faded away. She passed away this spring. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009.
I know at first I didn’t want to accept it. I tried all kinds of methods to help my mother remember dates, pills and how to cook during those early stages of the disease. As a teacher I knew there had to be methods to help someone learn. But Alzheimer’s doesn’t work that way. The disease does not follow the lesson goals or plans of a teacher. It follows its own unpredictable, destructible path– horribly unique for each victim. I had to accept the fact my mom would get worse, never better. Her condition did plateau at times, but it was always declining.
Accepting Alzheimer’s was not easy. Yet it freed me to enjoy the good moments that came. The moments of connection that I learned to accept in the present– perhaps an undetermined link to a past event but nothing that would transfer to the future or that she would remember to talk about. I learned to enjoy the here and now. And accept.
The moments, and they were many, triggered whether by a familiar face, voice, sound, a musical note, emotion… who knows what, and she would come alive. Maybe it was only for a second, but laughter would ring, a smile, a name, a PA Dutch word. Oh of course there were unpleasant reactions too: anger, a glare, a push, a yell, but those too were a part of her life, and had to be accepted. The tortured nerve endings within her brain bridged the gaps, the past came rushing into the present, a connection, and a future memory was born to cherish for all those nearby. And then that special moment would disappear as if it never happened. But the memory did not leave.
Some people never accept Alzheimer’s. Or they deny. Or even avoid. Some say that the person won’t even know them or just repeats questions, so why bother visiting them. Somehow I don’t believe Jesus would avoid or ignore.
I can see Him in my mind’s eye, holding the person’s hand, looking into their eyes and into their souls. He would love, laugh, comfort, feed, and yes, even bathe and change. Sure I believe Jesus could heal if He desired. But He doesn’t do all what we wish.
And thus it allows us to touch eternity by living in the present, the here and now, cherishing that moment that connects our hearts with our loved ones, accepting the fact that Alzheimer’s is there, a part of our lives now, but not to be feared.