I am here!
I often looked at people with dementia or Alzheimer’s and wondered what was going on in there. My own grandmother ended her days shrouded in a fog of confusion. I visited her just before she died and saw a husk of the woman that had filled my life. She sat there, tiny, in her large chair in the home unable to even form a whole word, that intake of breath which held the promise of speech only disappointed when a single sound died away to nothing.
A gentle woman in most of her previous days, she was now filled with some untraceable rage for the uncouth swearing staff and she lashed out at them as they passed.
Having seen the outward ravages of this illness and also the pictures of MRI scans taken of such brains it is hard to comprehend the devastation in function and also the large dead areas inside the brain. But what of her spiritual life?
During my visit I quoted a favourite hymn to her and for a few moments she returned. She made eye contact and I called her gran, I said that she wasn’t half as bad as she would have us believe…..and she grinned. But she was. Her brain was dying from the inside but somehow in that moment the real person trapped in that body shone out. I have seen videos of similar things when music is played to Alzheimer sufferers. A guitar was hung around a grey haired stammering woman, as her grandson encouraged her to play and sing she was transformed into a different person. For those few moments she was her true self once more.
We haven’t even begun to understand our brains, they control everything.
As I entered year four of this current experience it was with some small degree of betterment. I must quantify that by adding that I am not better! The man who crashed so spectacularly those years ago has not returned, the passion and desire is absent; the drive, determination and joy is not here.
In its place there is a dull drudgery that marks most days. I have just returned to work from my second long absence this year, the tsunami broke over my mind with great force on two occasions this year leaving weeks of devastation and self destructive mess. The hopelessness returned and with it the gloom which shrouds our family home with edginess.
In the summer I purchased a 125cc scooter, it is a joyful little beast that can carry me to and from work with ease. On the days when I was at my worst I would jump on it and charge off into the hills with my camera to distract myself from the worst of the thoughts. On these trips I bombarded myself from within the helmet with music of many kinds in a bid to wash the internal streets clear of the debris lying in there. Most days this worked and I returned in a lighter frame of mind before the rest of the household returned from their day.
The medication is once more stabilised, the worst of the thoughts are past again and perhaps there is now going to be a period of settled calm. I think of the ‘madness’ of king Saul and have some affinity with him, only the gentle strumming of David could calm his troubled mind. I see Nebuchadnezzar munching the grass those long years like a cow. His wife daily wondering how long he would be gone, one day his ‘reason’ returned to him and he ascended the throne a different man.
In these moments where I have a sound mind I understand that this is not an ending of my life. This is a time of passing through in order to change me from who I was into who God needs me to be going forward. My times of ‘grass eating’ are horrendously difficult, both for me and for my close family. I don’t see what these times achieve yet, but I must believe that there is a reason for them. I cannot succumb to random chance or pointless existence because my heart knows differently.
Our precious twenty first century minds rankle at the thought that these things could not only be allowed by God, but actually sent by Him.
Read again Daniel chapter 4, “this is what is decreed for you,” in order to humble the mighty potentate and teach him to worship God he was sent to the fields for a time. Did he have moments of clarity in those years? Only he would know.
Or perhaps 1Samuel 16 where “an evil spirit from the Lord” would sweep over king Saul. Only the gentle strumming of the Spirit filled David would bring relief, on occasions even this wouldn’t help and vitriol would spew from the king followed by whatever came to hand to launch. Even Jonathon challenged his father’s unreasonable actions.
I relate to these men in more ways than I would like to, on the worst of days there is no sense of reason, there is no logic and spiritual thoughts are unknown to me.
Every day as she left for work in these difficult weeks and I was wrapped like an enchilada in the duvet Fiona would say, “don’t believe the lies.” That was the best she could do, it was the best she could have done, no great inspirational quotes would have worked. No sweeping sermons or guilt trips would do it, no comparisons with slum dwellers or homeless alcoholics would matter. To someone who doesn’t care to live or die it was the best advice a wife could give, and she understood that!
We have all changed a lot since I began writing this. I am generally a more calm person, Fiona is more understanding and we are far from done yet.
If we truly believe that God is ultimately in control of everything then we must embrace what is happening instead of hating it.
I do hate it, I hate what it has done to our marriage, I hate who I become in the midst of it and I hate the effect that it has on our home. But it is here for the moment. Ever lurking in the background but with it’s hot rancid breath never far away, leaving the lingering stench of loss.
Those who skip around the globe in their apparent freedom with bronzed skin and bling, flitting from yacht to Bentley as they dine on white sands at sunset are not the norm. They make for good magazine articles or slick Instagram shots but are children of a different father.
Yes my own heart longs for such a life on occasions when all is going south, but even as I see them, in those moments I quickly flip to the pointlessness of it all.
Since I believe that our Heavenly Father is preparing us now for a future day then these things that seemingly blight our existence come into focus. The lens of eternity clarifies the refining aspect of it all, the crucible that we are all placed into is destroying the dross in order that we may be fit for His presence.
I still struggle to comprehend or understand dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but I equally struggle with every end of life illness. Our bodies will all slowly shut down one by one and it is we who differentiate between the mental and physical. Ultimately it is all physical, whether the damaged cells are in our heart or brain it is all physical.
Was my grandmother lucid in those final years but trapped in a malfunctioning body? We won’t ever know, but in those dark days which I myself experience I do know that I am held ransom by my own brain. Vital connections are not being made, the invisible prison bars are stronger than steel and the indoctrination that spews from the internal speakers is as powerful as any Communist re-education.
When all is said and done in these lives it will only be the spiritual ‘me’ who goes on, and that real person is who God is really interested in changing because he is eternal, as God Himself is.