Loving someone stricken with dementia is a curious journey. The disease not only robs a person of precious memories, but it also can tear down some of the afflicted person’s personal boundaries.
A few months ago, I was visiting my Mom in the nursing home, and we were having a nice chat about family matters. I mentioned that her ninth great-grandchild would soon be born, and she smiled.
“Really? Who is having a baby?” she asked.
I told her that her granddaughter, Sarah, Christine’s daughter, would soon be having her first child. Her expression changed when Christine’s name was mentioned.
“She’s gone, isn’t she?” she asked.
We talked a bit about Christine’s short life and, in an attempt to console my Mom, I mentioned that she would be reunited with Chris in heaven. Then, something unexpected happened.
My Mom not only gave me the gift of life, she also passed along her strong Catholic faith. Many factors/voices have contributed to my faith formation, but I first learned of God’s great love sitting on my mother’s knee.
Even during family crises, my Mom’s faith was always an anchor. She was a daily communicant, a woman of prayer, and, for many people, an instrument of God’s mercy and love. In fact, even in her diminished capacity, she continues to minister – through tenderness and contagious joy – to her fellow residents in the nursing home today.
“Do you think it’s true?” she asked (about heaven). “You know, when you’re in your eighties…” and her voice trailed off.
I couldn’t believe it! For the first time in my life, I heard my Mom express doubt about God and God’s promises. Dementia made that possible.
Though we may be guarded in sharing our personal struggles in this area, doubt is always a part of the life of faith. In fact, I have discovered that it is precisely my doubts that draw me further along the journey, that cause me to seek answers to some of life’s – and faith’s – deepest questions.
“I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) With these brutally honest words, a desperate father cried out to Jesus on behalf of his afflicted child. His words could also be my words every day of my life. And now, I have my mentor’s (i.e., my Mom’s) example to let me know that it’s okay to voice that very human struggle. Again, dementia made that possible.
I looked at my Mom and encouraged her to hold fast to what she has treasured her whole life. Now, it is my turn to minister.