How does dementia impact the world of a new Christian? In this account Keith Woodward shares the moving story of his grandmother.
© Mrs Logic (creative commons)
Just before Christmas I had the fantastic news that my Grandmother has been diagnosed with Vascular Dementia. I’m over the moon, if for no other reason than having been proved right by the medical community that she is definitely old and mad. This once proud battleaxe of a lady, a true Scot who had a biscuit in one hand and a smack waiting in the other if she felt you were cheeking her. A lady who I have no problem imagining telling Mel Gibson he wasn’t a proper Scot in Braveheart because “only cissies wear makeup,” is finally falling apart. And yes, I am genuinely happy.
For those who haven’t thrown their hands in the air in disgust and started writing a strongly worded letter to me, I’ll explain. Possibly. Nan has been a constant in my life since we moved back to England when I was still wearing short trousers. I have watched her lose a husband, see both her sons get divorced and move away, her grandchildren grow up and dye their hair every shade of yuck possible, and yet still she has remained resolutely steadfast in her stubbornness not to change.
Eleven years ago, when I started dating the Doctor, I remember remarking to my mother that Nan was becoming a little forgetful. And then a little more. And then losing some weight. Not remarking when you took three biscuits instead of two. When the Doctor and I moved home three years ago she was yet more forgetful. We learnt that she ran on a loop. We could sit for an hour in her company and she would start to retell the story she had led with, or ask us a question we had answered three times already. We would quietly leave, share a look and maybe mention it to my mother. We all knew what was happening. Both her siblings had shown signs of it previously, in fact her elder sister died some years ago of Alzheimer’s. Yet no one was prepared to say publicly that Nan was losing her marbles.
Now we know that not only has she lost them, but expect to find her trying to replace them with frozen peas, onions or anything else she feels may fit the bill.
Some will see God at work in how as a family we respond to crisis and change
But the happiness factor? Well, some will see God at work, in how as a family we respond to crisis and change. How we pull together or push ourselves even further apart. Others may see the possibilities of getting funding to help her or outside agencies hearing our cries and coming to our rescue. Some may see the beauty of a life well lived, a family raised and heaven beckoning. I see all of these and yet more. But more than anything it is peace that I feel, hence happiness. Peace because the worst has been written and we can start doing something. If it sounds odd, I can only shrug my shoulders and agree, but the whole situation is odd.
My mother and I are leading the operation. In fact, mum is, I just help. The odd thing though is that these two ladies ceased to be relatives roughly fifteen years ago when my parents divorced. Nan is my father’s mother, not my mothers. Yet their bond remained close, Christmas has always been spent in each others company and my father is now living too far away to be involved. I have already told mum that by the end of the year she will either have asked me to pray for her or she will herself have stepped foot inside a church.
My sister is lending moral support and will accompany us, but struggles to see her grandmother in failing health. There is nothing I can say to my sister that will change this, make it better or take away the pain. There really are no magic words that will suddenly make everything alright. My father and uncle live away and have their own lives. I see both of them reprimand Nan when she says something out of turn. It is no more than a coping mechanism for them, however wrong I may feel it is. There are other relatives, other coping mechanisms and other emotions. Maybe on another day I will touch on them.
And in all of this I see Jesus. Do I blame him for pain, illness and suffering? No. But I’m happy to thank him for love, compassion and every beautiful emotion I have ever experienced. I do not have to be a biblical scholar and be able to quote scripture to know in my heart that illness was not part of His plan for us. Put it down to the fall and that we are not living in Eden. I see him because I have questions. My instinct when the diagnosis was received was to pray for peace in my grandmother’s heart. I didn’t pray for healing, not because I don’t believe my God heals, but because I have seen the fear in her eyes when she realises that what she has just said somehow doesn’t tally. Whilst I am happy for her to think I am my father, the moments where she realises her error are horrendous to witness. For me, to pray for peace seems to be the most natural request because it is the fear that is hitting her hard, not the memory loss.
I see Jesus because I am beginning to witness the beauty of a family pulling togetherI see Jesus because I am beginning to witness the beauty of a family pulling together. Of all working together for a common purpose. I hear him say to me “don’t judge what others will say or do during this time”. I understand that there is a test here for all of us. I know Jesus is sitting next to me when I ponder the question of heaven for Nan. She had been a church organist in her youth and was and avid watcher of Sunday evening hymns. I know she owns a Bible, but what I don’t know is what feelings she owned in her heart.
I don’t know whether someone who may not have accepted Christ before they are struck down with this disease which robs them of the ability for clear and rational thought for the rest of their life, will in turn be accepted by Christ at the gates of heaven.
But what I feel more than anything is love. Love from Christ. Love for my Grandmother and the sacrifice my own mother is making. Love for the very personal struggles all of my family will go through. Love for the dreams and desires that each and everyone of us harbours. Love for those in ill health and ill situations. Love simply for the sake of love.
I’m a new Christian with barely any idea how to open his Bible on a daily basis or how to pray to the one I call Father. But one thing I have come to realise through beginning to write and watching my Grandmother lose her marbles is that we all have a purpose here. We have to give God glory, but we have to do it by living a full life, using the gifts that we have been given so that we can reflect the glory of God to the wider world. Jesus loves the demented because he loves all of us and I can only guess at how he is suffering watching my Grandmother deteriorate. He is suffering watching me not write, not fulfil my purpose, not be a good father and husband. We are all demented when we walk away from our one true path. We are all falling apart in our own way. We don’t have to have a disease for Jesus to love us anymore than he already does.
March 27th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Keith Woodward