When my father died thirteen years ago, I withdrew from the shock and grief into a self-protective shell from which I emerged in small increments over years of time. Very slowly, and as I could cope, I dealt with the loss of his presence in my life; and only recently have I come to a point where a sudden reminder of Dad brings a smile rather than a sharp stab of grief.
Caregivers for loved ones with dementia are not allowed this buffer of time that I utilized in the grieving process for my father. We are forced to face the hurt each time we interact with the dementia patient. Every time I enter my mother's room I am confronted by the reality of all I have lost in my relationship with her. For example, one of the first dates that escaped my mother's memory was my birthday. She remembers my cousin Mike's birthday each year, but not the anniversary of the birth of her only child. And despite the fact that she has never yet failed to remember my husband's name, she often calls me by my daughter's name. So often it seems that in every interaction with my mother I am at risk of some unexpected stab of hurt that comes, not as I'm able to face the grief, but according to the whims of the disease that is taking her from me by stages.
On the morning of my December 22 birthday this year, I read Psalm 121 in the English Standard Version of the Bible: "The Lord is your keeper; the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore" (Psalm 121:5-8 ESV). Thus as I steeled myself to enter my mother's room and to endure the discomfort of pain of loss of a birthday greeting, I was reminded that the Lord is the keeper of my heart, that I'm not at the mercy of Alzheimer's disease, but instead dwell in the Lord's protective mercy. I found a wonderful commentary on Psalm 121 from Matthew Henry: "The Lord shall prevent the evil thou fearest, and sanctify, remove, or lighten the evil thou feelest."
Despite my awareness that the Lord has lightened for us the evil of Alzheimer's disease, I struggle. I get about an inch from crawling onto the ledge of the Lord's support and freedom from fear and grief, but then I lose my footing and find myself hanging from the very edge of a cliff once again, my fingers slipping while below me swirl black waters of overwhelming grief of loss. Thank God for His patience and mercy.
Prayer: Lord, as caregivers we pray that you set our feet on the solid ground of the truth of the fact that You are sovereign over the interminable grief of bearing with a loved one's Alzheimer's disease. Set our feet on the solid ground of your truth, protect our hearts by the Power of Your Name, work in the hearts and minds of our other family members and grant them understanding, keep us from evil, watch over our lives, in Jesus' Name we pray.