Alzheimer’s sucks. Hard.
I was introduced to the effects of the disease about 4 years ago. I was in a writing critique group with an author who was retelling her story about how she’d lost her mother to Alzheimer’s. I remember reading her manuscript. About her mom. About her dad. And about their fights and fears, triumphs and tears. Reading it on the page, I thought how difficult it must have been.
When Al hits, he hits everyone. The whole family. It’s a seismic shift of position: physically, mentally, and emotionally. My author friend is a fantastic writer. One of the best I’ve ever read. But the words on the page are not like experiencing it for myself.
My mom and dad don’t have Alzheimer’s, thank God, but a dear, dear friend of mine does have a mom who has it. I’ve watched the family. How hard it is to see someone you know turn into someone you don’t. How tough the decisions are to handle their care. How trying it is to want to go on, to want to smile and live your life after visits that are depressing.
It’s enough to make you turn to the sky with arms wide. Where are you now, God? Mr. Almighty! Where are you now?!
I know this is a Christian blog, and I’m supposed to have answers. But if I’m honest. I don’t have any answers. No one does.
We visited with our Alzheimer’s patient today. And like every time, it was tough. Christian music played lightly as we entered. My friend tries to speak to her mom with joy. She’s upbeat as she speaks close to her mom’s face, or sometimes right in her ear. “How you doing today, Mom? It’s me.” I usually just observe. Sometimes I feel I’m an intrusion. I never want to be in the way of these precious moment. On this visit, upon my friend saying her name, I saw a response. “Hi!” her mom replied. Always a good sign. I even thought I saw a smile.
And then, I could see the emotion. My friend’s mom looked anxious. Her face flushed red, and her eyes watered. I couldn’t help but feel she had something to say, something important, something my friend needed to hear.
We waited. And waited. But there was nothing.
I wondered, what must it be like to have so much to say, and no way to say it. To want to share your thoughts, to want to remind someone how you feel about them, and to not be able to.
My friend went on about how plans had changed, and about how we’d be back to visit next week with a performance by her daughter. No response. Just a stagnant look. A pained expression at, what I fear, is an inability to communicate. I watched as she tried, as she periodically licked her lips as if to reset before giving it another go. I watched as she grew more frustrated at her failure.
I went to stand behind my friend, and she laid her head on my chest and let out a deep breath. We stood there with our eyes closed as the music played. It was, “Our God is an awesome God,” in some other language. We said goodbyes, and then went to stand at the end of the bed. We thought we were leaving, but instead, we stood there hugging as the song switched to the English version.
As I stood there holding my friend in my arms and watching a shell of a lively, talented and generous person, I thought about the irony of the song playing in the background. The lyrics rang out in the silence. “Our God is an awesome God”, at a moment when He seemed so not awesome. Silent. Absent felt more like it. “He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love…” Where was that power and love now as this wonderful woman, who by all accounts doesn’t deserve any of this.
It hurt so much to see how this affected my friend. And so, I whispered a prayer. ” God, give us something. Anything. Just let us know you are out there. That you hear us.”
Soon after, my friend went to say good-bye again. A second round. And this time she ended with, “I love you, mom.”
And the sweetest sound returned. A breathless miracle.
” I love yoooouuu…”
Her mom had replied.
Three words. Three simple words was all we needed. God, the absent one, the one who has refused to step in and heal, the one who’s watching this all happen, answered a prayer. I love you. I love you.
It was a small miracle. That moment, I couldn’t stop the tears. God was listening. He was there. And he’s probably just as heartbroken as we are. I thanked him for his gift as I grabbed my teary-eyed friend and prepared to leave. What an amazing experience.
My friend later noticed that she meant to say Happy Mother’s day, and hadn’t. Me, I think enough was said. By all.
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