Last Friday, I began speaking of what it is like to watch your loved one go through Alzheimer’s. I admitted my desire to “make him better” only resulted in depression, frustration, and a widening chasm between us. But God finally got through to me. He helped me to understand the importance of Paul’s admonition in the book of Romans: “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:19 NASB).
And so I determined to do just that: To build up my husband instead of continually reminding him of his deficits.
I wish I could say, “End of story!” But yup. You guessed it: It was a lot easy to decide to do than it was to put into practice!
You see, besides the emotional roller coaster of having to watch the one I loved slip into this dreaded disease, I also had to live with the consequences.
Take the household responsibilities, for example. He couldn’t manage the finances anymore, so guess who that fell on? He got to the point where he couldn’t even respond to email. Once again, wife to the rescue. And as all of his responsibilities fell one by one off his plate and onto mine, he found himself with nothing to do and no initiation to try anything. So while I was scurrying around trying to cover all of these added responsibilities, I also had to stumble over him as he paced around the house with his hands behind his back; and I had to be prepared to drop whatever it was I was doing to run over and help him out of whatever problem he had gotten himself into.
Now my “type 1” personality dictates that I complete what I start, that I make lists and work my way through them, and as a result, I get very stressed when something interferes with “my” plans. The result of all this?
Impatience and frustration set it, big time! I cannot tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep. My tears were for him; but they were also for me, for the loss of my husband, for the loss of our hopes and dreams. And, I’m ashamed to admit, there were also tears of selfish frustration for my own lot in life… Where was God in all this? After all, He had promised my husband’s complete healing and restoration. How come things only got worse? Why was my life becoming more and more difficult?
That was when God began speaking to me about changes I needed to make in my own life.
Wait! This isn’t about me! It’s about my husband! Don’t talk to me about what I need to change!
As you all can well imagine, that response didn’t go over very well with God. Instead, He began giving me Bible text after Bible text about unselfishness, about patience, about … surrender! I needed to follow Jesus’ command: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24 ESV). That meant relinquishing control. It meant surrendering my plans and letting God replace them with His. It also meant I needed to learn patience through the process!
But these were not just problem areas because of my husband’s diagnosis. They were areas of my life that needed work in all situations. We all know, “…that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NASB). In the middle of the waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled, was God asking me to use this time to work on some pretty dark areas of my own life?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how He could have gotten through to me in any other way…
And so, I began praying for patience, for the grace to exchange my plans for His, for the selflessness to be able to reach out to my husband and support him through some of the darkest days of his life. I began praying every day that I would deny myself and follow Jesus.
And that denying of myself meant this: Rather than pointing out his cognitive losses, I had to try to assure him it was okay, that together we would get through. Rather than pushing him to do therapy, I needed to encourage him to turn to God for strength. Rather than complaining about all the extra work I now had, I had to begin relying on God to give me the strength, desire and time so that I could still spend quality time with my husband. Rather than fussing at him for pacing through the house without anything to do, I needed to hold his hand, to give him things to do that he was still capable of and thus, include him in my tasks. Instead of reminding him of how many times I had heard that story already, my place was to listen and acknowledge that what he had to say was important…
We’ll just say that peace and order and happiness were restored in our home. My husband was a lot less frustrated and a lot happier, and I’ll admit that I was as well!
When those we love have problems, it puts a lot of pressure on us. We have the choice of selfishly striking out, as I did, or to surrender our own hopes and dreams and plans and agendas to God. When we choose the latter, it becomes a win-win situation for everyone, including ourselves!
In His love,
(To access the entire “Living With Alzheimer’s” devotional series, please click here.)