The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. . . Deuteronomy 33: 27
Have you ever had to accept that you have been in complete denial about something really important? I have come to that place in the last few days and it’s been painful to face the truth. In looking back, I suppose I knew all along. The heart sometimes seems to know what the mind can’t accept.
Denial can be a good thing – for a while anyway. It can keep us from being anxious or distressed over a situation, and it can give our minds time to slowly adjust to a certain reality. But eventually, we have to face the painful truth and find a way to move forward.
For the past two years, my niece has been telling me that she was seeing some changes in my dear, older sister, Ruth, and eventually, the diagnosis of early stages of Alzheimer’s was made. I was told the news, but I wanted to believe that perhaps it was just some aging dementia or memory loss.
At my age, I too, have trouble remembering things, I lose objects, and sometimes I can’t “pull down” a word I am trying to say. I searched for any signs I could find that she was truly changing mentally, but all I could see was the very same strong, independent, intelligent, happy, and loving sister she has always been – at least during the times she was with me.
I know her so well. We have talked almost every day for years and we see each other fairly often since she lives only an hour away. We have always shared everything and relied on the other for strength and comfort. We have been a constant presence in each other’s lives – through all the happy times and the sad.
And even with this diagnosis, I just kept thinking that if this truly was happening to her, I would have been one of the first to notice it, to understand that she was not herself, and to have been the first person she would have talked to about it. I convinced myself that I would somehow know, and since I didn’t, I wouldn’t accept it. Recently, it became something I couldn’t deny any longer.
Almost 18 years older than me, Ruth has been my second mom, the most loving sister, and my best friend, my cheerleader, my encourager, my comforter, and my biggest fan. She has loved my family as her own, and I have loved hers. I was there for her when her husband passed away of lung cancer when she was in her mid 30’s, when her only child went away to college and she was left alone once again, and when her precious granddaughter was born.
And what love and support she has given me through the years. We have mourned and comforted each other during the passing of our dad when I was 13, and during the loss of our two brothers, a sister, and our mom since the year 2000. I watched her retire from a successful career, receive recognition for all her volunteer work in the community and in her church, and be the most amazing, loving, kind, and selfless mother and grandmother I know. Even in the last few months at 82, she has seemed so vibrant, happy, independent, and self-assured.
But then there’s this other thing – this change that is going on inside her mind. How confused she must be at what is happening. She knows the diagnosis, and we have talked about it, but yet she just refers to it as some memory loss she has.
In my mind, she’s still the same wonderful person she has always been. I have been around individuals with Alzheimer’s – perhaps more in the later stages – but I suppose I just didn’t want to accept that you can be so normal while losing bits of yourself more and more.
Just a few days ago, I watched a 3 minute video called “Everything you ever needed to know about Alzheimer’s”, and I understood what I had tried so hard not to see. There will be no more denial. Acceptance is hard. And it saddens me to know the struggles that my niece, her daughter, and her husband are going through as they try to figure out the best way to meet her needs and fill her days with simple joys. I am sure many of you understand because you too have family members or friends who have been affected by this disease. You understand the pain and despair involved much too well.
I am beginning to understand. I listened as my niece told me how much worse her mom is getting. I have never seen her during the times when her thinking has become so irrational and she gets so easily agitated, angered, and in despair over the simplest things, such as the loss of objects that she can’t find, and the obsession with the thoughts that someone is stealing everything she has. These times are coming more frequently and with more fierceness, and she is living in a constant state of anxiety.
The last few days have been filled with tears as she begs her daughter for help. Yet, when I call her each day, we talk about our adorable grandchildren and laugh at each other’s stories about them. We pretend that all is well. Ruth has never told me about these anxious times, and that in itself, breaks my heart.
But I finally realized that this is one thing she can’t share with me. It’s a place I can’t go with her. It’s something we can’t talk about and solve together. As much as I want to travel this journey with her and try to make it easier for her, I can’t. She has to go it alone – with God holding her in His everlasting arms. I am holding on to His promise to do so.
Some horrible things can happen in this life and we don’t understand why. This relentless, incurable disease with its slow progression that leads to death is certainly one of them. I know my sister has had a long and wonderful life, and I am so grateful for it, but it is difficult to watch her slowly decline and lose herself.
But yet, she is still with us. She has much faith and I know she is trusting in Him. I am counting on those loving arms to hold her close to Him until He carries her home. I am trusting in His mercy and grace.
Dear God, you understand the heartache that we feel as we watch our loved ones go through difficult times. We ask that your mercy and grace be upon them and that you hold them in your everlasting arms. May we feel your strength and peace as we go through the uncertainties of life and hold on to your promise of eternal life with you. Amen