In the fall of 2018, my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We had both just retired, and we were looking forward to many years of happiness together. We wanted to make up for all the busyness of our careers. We wanted to travel, to write, to share home and gardening projects, and especially, to be the ministry team God had created us to be. But with those dreaded words, “You have early Alzheimer’s,” all of our plans and dreams were instantly washed away.
I wish I could say it took me by surprise, but I can’t. I had been suspecting this for months, maybe even years. As a practising Speech-Language Pathologist/Therapist with more than 30 years of experience in adult neurological communication disorders, I have to admit that the red flags had been waving for a while. Nonetheless, no one wants confirmation that what they fear has become a reality.
Because of my background, I was acutely aware of what was ahead. The man I had shared my life with, the one who was the father to my children, was gone; and I would be forced to sit back and watch as everything I knew and loved about the man I married slipped away. Naturally, this also meant that all of our plans and hopes and dreams were also slipping away, for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s isn’t compatible with how we had hoped to spend our retirement.
We normally think of grief as being something brought on by a death; but in reality, we tend to grieve any loss in our lives. The only problem is, when there is no death, we tend to feel guilty about our grief. I mean, how could I grieve the loss of my husband when he was physically still there? And of course, there was the grief over the loss of our hopes and dreams for retirement. Wasn’t it selfish to be grieving these things when the loss was so much more devastating to my husband?
There was only one thing I could do: I could fight back! Where there is life, there is hope, right? So I determined to do some cognitive stimulation with him every day. That would help, right?
I will say that I did see changes… but not the kind I was hoping for. Everything I had intended for good only served to bring the deficits that he was already acutely aware of to the forefront of his mind. The result? A chasm of frustration formed between us, and he was pushed into depression.
I realize now how insensitive I was. I mean, if you can’t make heads or tails out of an analog clock, if your visual perception makes you see things very differently from how they actually are, would you want someone continually pushing a clock under your nose and asking you the time?
But if I couldn’t “make him better”, then what was I supposed to do?
The “lecturing” started then. Whatever came to my mind came out my mouth: “You should try harder.” “Don’t you ever listen?” “I’ve already shown you how to do that three times!” Then I would be forced to watch as my poor, hurting husband crumpled even further into his sea of uselessness and despair.
It was definitely a dark time for us, and I couldn’t have been happier when God appeared to my husband in the bathroom that afternoon, promising to heal his sore shoulder and his cognition. God had heard my prayers. He would make it all new again.
The only problem was, that renewal didn’t happen right away. In fact, I didn’t see any signs of it happening at all at first. All I could see was the continued daily loss of cognitive abilities; and the angry frustration in me mounted, making me doubt my husband’s story, making me doubt that my God keeps His promises…
I am ashamed to admit how long this all went on. Suffice is to say, those were not pleasant days for any of us. Looking back over all of this, I realize that there wasn’t much I did that was right. However, God doesn’t want us to dwell in our past mistakes. He wants us to learn from them and move on; and by the grace of God, that is what I finally resolved to do. The Bible tells us multiple times to, “build one another up”: “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:19 NASB) This doesn’t qualify that we are only to do this in the best of times. It does not exclude the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, or any other thing that might be affecting the one you love, so I finally resolved to, “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up…” of my husband!
I hope and pray that if someone you know and love is going through Alzheimer’s, or other types of serious problems, you will remember my story. Yes, it is normal to grieve the loss of your loved one the way you knew him or her. Yes, it is normal to grieve the loss of the life you had, of your plans and hopes and dreams. Nonetheless, that person is still there, and in their moments of clarity (and we have no way of knowing when those will come!), that person is hurting far worse than you could ever imagine. We have it in our power to either support and love them through these hard times, or to make their lives unlivable. Let’s resolve to do the former, to always build one another up, no matter what!
In His love,
(To access the entire “Living With Alzheimer’s” devotional series, please click here.)