My mom doesn’t know me anymore. She says I look familiar and is happy to see me but can’t quite place me.
Apparently, I must look a little like someone she once knew and went to school with years ago, or maybe she faintly remembers me. She has asked me if I know certain classmates of hers and if I am older than she is or younger. I tell her who I am, but she doesn’t usually remember for long.
While it’s hard not to be recognized by my mom as her son — and I certainly thought I did enough things when I was young to make me hard to forget — it has to be so much harder for my dad who spends most of his time caring for my mom. There are good days and there are other days. While things are usually better in the mornings, by evening time she sometimes doesn’t know him either. On those nights, one of them has to sleep on the couch because it wouldn’t be right to share a bed with someone she didn’t recognize as her husband even though my mom and dad have been happily married for 64 years.
It started with a little confusion and being a little forgetful, but her Alzheimer’s progressed from that to asking the same questions or telling the same stories over and over again during the same visit. She became frustrated because she couldn’t remember things and was aware of her problem with memory.
From there it went to not being quite sure who I was when we visited, but she was still happy to see me. When I called on the phone, she would talk to me but was always quick to hand over the phone to Dad since she wasn’t quite sure who I was or what to say to me.
On our most recent visit, she didn’t come to the door to greet us when we arrived as she usually did but was sitting quietly and somewhat withdrawn on the couch in the living room. When I walked over to her and said hello, she said I looked familiar and joined in our visit but was more of a passive participant, listening and looking around but not saying much. My father lovingly explained things to her as we talked.
We went out to eat together before we started on our trip back home. My father ordered for my mom, knowing what she liked and what she would eat. His loving care and patience with her were amazing to watch.
She seemed to truly enjoy watching our three-year-old grandson whom she had not met before our most recent visit. The two kind of hit it off from the start. She watched him play with old toy cars and trucks at my parents’ house. And, at the restaurant, when she got out of my dad’s car, our grandson took her hand rather than ours to walk across the parking lot. Instead of her watching out for him, he watched out for her and led her safely to the restaurant door. He did the same when we returned to our cars. He took her to my dad’s car and her passenger-side door.
We said our goodbyes until our next visit and she gave me a hug before we left.
Having seen how the disease progresses, I know caring for her will be harder and harder for my dad. Days may come when she does not recognize him at all, even though they spent their lives together and he still cares for her each and every day. When we visit, I may no longer be anyone she recognizes — not even a familiar face.
I’ve wished there were far fewer miles between us and I could be there to help my dad and sit with Mom when he needed a little time for himself. It’s hard to be watching out for a loved one day and night to be sure she is occupied, safe and has not wandered off and forgotten the way back home, and even more difficult when she doesn’t remember who you are.
It’s sad to see someone we know and love begin to fade; and, in some ways, diseases which affect the mind are the most difficult of all because loved ones no longer know us and sometimes mistrust us or question our loving care.
The why goes back to Genesis 3 and the consequences of mankind’s fall. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). Alzheimer’s disease, like so many other illnesses and diseases which infect us, leads us toward the end of life in this world and to the grave. We age and our earthly bodies and minds give out and eventually fail us. We return to the ground.
What hope is there when such a disease strikes and the mind and body fail? Many know of no hope. They may hope for a time in medicines, healthy foods or exercise but, eventually, all hope fades.
For the Christian, there is hope in the resurrection. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again, those who place their trust in Him for forgiveness and life eternal have the certain hope of being raised up again on the Last Day to everlasting life, where there will be no more sickness, disease, sorrow or death.
“We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven …” (2 Cor. 5:1-2). “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
My mother has such hope. She trusts in Jesus, her Savior, and long ago taught me to trust Him too. Her earthly house (her mind and body) is fading, but she has a new one waiting for her in heaven because of Jesus and what He has done for us. Her new house is eternal, immortal and incorruptible. She again will be all she was in Christ Jesus and so much more!