On any given day, several friends will ask me, “How’s Jan?”
I’m glad they do because it is a continual reminder that I am in a community of people who care. Most of them love Jan deeply, but I think a few are concerned about me too. That comforts me. It’s like a big group hug without all the touchy-freely stuff.
To be honest, I’m a little perplexed about the proper response. Physically, she’s healthy – if you don’t include her brain in the assessment. She is so pleasant to be around that I find myself in awe of her faith and resilience.
But back to that brain part. For sixty two years of her life, Jan was an opinionated, stubborn, focused woman. Oh, did I mention emotional? When she taught kindergarten and pre-k, she was Disney on wheels. She made organizational charts for the kids to make sure that their chores were done.
Then there was that acrostic side of Jan. When she had to learn something, she would invent little mnemonic devices to help her remember. Especially the Bible. I think she had a memory device for every book of the Bible. She even had one that helped her remember the judges of Israel. Then there was the time she left me for a week to go on a mission trip to Mexico. She drew a cute red STOP sign and wrote the following below: S – If you spill it, wipe it up. T – Take out the trash. O – if you open it, close it back. P – If you take it out, put it back.
But those days are gone forever. I’m not unhappy about where we are in our relationship. I really do love her more today than I ever have. And I do have regrets that I wasn’t more of what she deserved and needed for much of our life together. But I’m also aware that God has been merciful to me in allowing me to make up for lost time a little.
So when you ask me how Jan is doing, I want to say all of that. But no one wants a response that drags on like that forever. So I usually just say, “She’s fine.”
However, I have to be honest with you here. I fear the inevitable. It’s not my death or hers that sets my fears ablaze. It’s the way that Alzheimer’s Disease steals a person in little pieces. I’ve tried to think of an appropriate metaphor to let you know what it’s like, and I think I’ve found one.
Dementia is like a safety razor that shaves thin pieces of who a person is a little more every day. You don’t notice it at first. In fact, in the beginning, you misread the signals altogether. It looks like hostility. Or maybe the next day, it manifests itself as forgetfulness or even thoughtlessness.
“I told you that five times at least. You’re not paying attention.”
It seems personal.
And I regret that. I am ashamed that I didn’t see it sooner – that I confused the signals and made it about me. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, but sometimes I can’t help feeling guilty. She deserved better.
But now, it’s that daily shaving off of little pieces of what makes her herself that strikes terror in my heart. I’m okay with today. We still talk, but the deeper and more emotional side of our conversations have diminished – a lot. I just recently noticed that about us, and I hate it. I miss her in that way. And what about a year from now? Will she know me? Will she know her children and grandchildren?
I hope so.
I don’t think I’m faithless in dreading the outcome of this identity thief. I can give you countless examples of biblical characters who wrestled with fear of future anguish yet were still viewed by God as faithful. David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he wrestled with God all through the Psalms.
Even my Lord, Jesus Christ, agonized over his impending suffering. Was he faithless?
I don’t want to suffer this, but I do pray that God will use it to draw me closer to him (she’s already one of his favorites). And I pray that I will stand up under it by the power of his spirit and glorify his name – not just in word, but in how I stand firm in his promises.
That’s what I want.
Merciful Father, I cry out in my pain to you, “Abba, Father.” That is the substance of my prayers. I pray that it is enough because I am weak in flesh and spirit. I do not want to continue on this journey one more mile. I pray that you will take it from me. I don’t think you’ll judge me guilty for asking that. But I also pray that you will teach me what I need to learn. I pray that you will use this to draw me closer to you, my Father. And above all, my God and Savior, I plead with you that I will be faithful to you and that others will praise you because you’ve given me the grace to complete the task with the joy of your salvation in my heart.