It’s happening more often these days. It happened tonight. My 94 year old mother-in-law bowed her head and put her hand to her forehead and sat that way, looking perplexed. “Are you okay, Eunice?” I asked.
“I’m confused,” she says.
“What are you confused about?”
“I don’t know where I am, or how I got here.”
“Well,” I say, “this is where you’ve lived for over two years now. You live here with your son, Jeff and me. I’m Jeff’s wife, Cheryl.”
She looks at me and nods, but doesn’t seem reassured. She puts her hand on her bowed forehead and again says, “I’m so confused.” My heart goes out to her. I pray with her and that seems to give her a little comfort.
Eunice was a strong and very intelligent woman. She knew the names of hundreds of children she worked with through the years at church. She knew every verse of probably a hundred hymns by heart. She read profusely, completed crossword and jigsaw puzzles faithfully, and sewed quilts beautifully.
But now she looks at her son and some days asks, “Who are you?”
“I’m your son, Jeff. You’re my mom.”
“I’m your mom?” she says with disbelief, and laughs.
The confusion is showing up more frequently. It reminds me of my own mama’s journey with Alzheimer’s, except I don’t remember Mom ever actually saying that she was confused. But she would very often say, “I want to go home!” Even though she was still in the same home she’d lived in for over 50 years. And she would holler and say, “Mama! Mama where are you?”
My own Mama passed on to Jesus this past December. It was a challenging journey through Alzheimer’s with her. And now we are on another one with my mother-in-law. A reader liked an old Facebook post I’d shared in 2014 today. When I saw the notification I reread the post and it reminded me of lessons I learned back then, that I need again now.
Here is the gist of it….
I’m not sure how to respond to that. So I say, “I love you, Mama”
“I love you, too,” Mama sweetly answers. A bit later she stares at my face and abruptly asks, “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” she immediately asks again.
“Oh,” Mom smiles, “YOU’RE Cheryl.”
“Yep, I’m Cheryl. Who are you?”
“I’m Nina Fay.”
“You’re Nina Fay. Do you love me?”
“Well,” Mom says cheerfully, “I used to.” I’ve noticed a scratch on her arm and so I rub some ointment on it while I tell Mom what I’m doing. She says, “Bless your little heart!”
There’s a break in the thunderstorm, so I get up to leave. Mom gets upset and urgently shouts, “Stay here! Stay here!” She’s never done that with me before, so I settle back down next to her. She seems reassured and she pats my arm and tries to rub away my freckles.
And I think now what a strange conversation Mama and I’ve had. And I know a few years ago it would have broken my heart. Well, actually something similar did I’m sure. Alzheimer’s is a journey of heart breaks.
But please hear this…God keeps healing the brokenness and the cracks. His love seeps in and soothes and repairs and heals until you find out that your heart is much stronger than you ever thought it could be.
And on this unwanted journey, God keeps raining grace on us. He gives strength to get through the day. He sends lessons we would have learned no other way. He gives tender moments and smiles that are more precious seen through the pain.
My dad was just saying today, as we heard the thunderstorm crackling overhead, that he liked to sit out on the porch during storms so he could hear the power. I know what he means. God is powerful and mighty and there is something about a thunderstorm that reminds us of that.
And there is something about walking through Alzheimer’s with a loved one that reminds me of His power, too. Because I know I couldn’t bear it without Him. I know He is surrounding us with His love and growing us in new ways. I know He is with us through it all.
So I can sing the words of a favorite song of mine, (by Casting Crowns) with confidence and faith, “I will praise You in this storm….”
“……And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in Your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm.”
He is so good. He is worthy of our praise!