Renewing Your Mind While Watching Someone You Love Suffer

Written by Laura Swessel

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

Dementia is such a cruel and mysterious disease, especially for the family and friends of those afflicted with it.  Every phase presents you with a totally different person.  I have watched one of the most independent women – military veteran (one of the first female Air Force officers), young widow (losing her husband at age 48 when I was 19, and my brother was only 10 years old), brilliant musician, and role model – struggle with this disease for almost 5 years (probably longer as I look back and reflect on what I now know are early signs).  First, it seemed like she had a hard time concentrating, always starting something new before completing the task at hand, which led to a very cluttered household – atypical of the woman who raised me.  Then, it was minor forgetfulness – missing an appointment or not remembering an outing we had taken a few months back.  Now, recalling what she had for breakfast just a few hours later is a major task.  The mystery (or maybe the blessing) of what it has not robbed from her is her love for and ability to do crossword puzzles and Sodoku and (of course) to play the organ.

The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans is to give a summary of all that is required to live a life that is pleasing to God, especially in times of trouble.  Romans 12:12 gives three traits (joy, patience and faithfulness) and a context for each of them.  The second and third items are quite easy to relate to a caregiver’s concerns for a loved one suffering from dementia.  Patience in affliction is most definitely needed as your loved one struggles to come up with the correct words, tries to pull a memory out of muddled thoughts, or just simply attempts to complete a basic task.

Being “faithful in prayer” has taken on many different forms throughout this process.  First, there is the obvious in that I pray every day that medical advances will slow down the progression of the disease or at least lessen her anxiety.  Secondly, as I gradually took over her financial and medical decisions, I began (and continue) to pray for guidance.  Lastly, I pray for the ability to navigate the many changes in her abilities and also to find creative ways to encourage her and to accentuate the strengths and skills she still possesses.

Being “joyful in hope”, though, is probably the most difficult of the three.  What does that mean and how does it apply to someone who is dealing with a chronic, progressively debilitating disease like dementia?  For me, the hope lies in the hope that advancements in the treatment and prevention of dementia will mean that another generation will not have to suffer or watch a loved one suffer with the disease.

I’d like to close by including one other verse. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances”.  I am grateful that my mother’s dementia has not progressed as quickly as others.  I am also thankful for the incredible community of other caregivers I have met while visiting my mother – many of them not as fortunate as I am.  My mother’s long-term memory is still mostly intact.  So, we can reminisce about events and activities we have experienced together, and she can still tell me stories about her childhood and early adulthood.  Although, I wish I would have started this project earlier, the situation of other people who can no longer share these memories with their parents has inspired me to start keeping a journal of memories my mother shares with me in preparation for the time when she will no longer be able to remember them by herself.


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