It is difficult to avoid holding the patient accountable, even when we understand the dynamics behind the hurtful behaviors. I think we as Christians are especially hard on one another; we feel that Christian dementia patients ought to have forgiven all those people who caused them pain in the past. And indeed, if any of us were capable of beginning an Alzheimer journey with a perfectly clean bill of spiritual health, I imagine we could be sweet, encouraging, and loving patients who never caused our caregivers a day of sorrow.
In other words, perfect people would make perfect Alzheimer's patients. But of course we aren't perfect, none of us; all have sinned (see Romans 3:23).
Even with perfect cognitive health, all of us have one or more people in our lives who take the brunt of our emotional stress because we feel they deserve it. We hold our spouses, parents, and sometimes our own children accountable for the state of our emotional health, and they let us down. And so we feel resentment, and that resentment becomes a vehicle for our hurtful words and actions. In health we are more subtle than an angry and hurtful dementia patient; we aim our blows more carefully. But the sin of failure to love as we've been loved and forgive as we've been forgiven is present within us all.
As healthy individuals, we need to look to a future when our ability to monitor our sinful responses will be lessened. This provides some motivation to, on a daily, incident-by-incident basis, forgive those who have trespassed against us, but the greatest impetus comes when we look at our Savior's face. Reflected in His gaze, we see ourselves as the sin-tainted creatures we are, and humility fuels our gratitude to Him for loving us enough to die for us. As we look steadily at Him, we understand that we can love others as He has loved us; sacrificially, with compassion, taking blows we do not deserve for His sake, forgiving as he forgave us.
It isn't surprising that people are sinful, and it isn't just the mentally compromised who need compassion and forgiveness. We shouldn't be shocked when our fellow human beings are hurtful or make excuses for the sinfulness that resides in each one of us. We are only protected from the tyranny of resentment through forgiving and being forgiven.
As caregivers we need the ability to respond with compassion to those who have lost the ability to monitor their emotions and words even when they cause us pain, but we also need protection from the harm caused by hurtful words and actions. Praise be to the God whose love covers our sins, enables us to forgive, and heals our hearts.
Caregiver's prayer: Father, please protect my heart and grant me the ability to respond to my loved ones with Your compassion and love. Please keep me from reacting to hurtful behaviors in sinful ways and forgive me when I fail; Lord please heal my broken heart. Help me to love and forgive as You have loved and forgiven me, in Jesus' name I pray, amen.
Put up with one another.
Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you,
because you should act in kind.
But above all these, put on love!
Colossians 3:13 The Voice