Alzheimer’s is not a party. It’s no fun to watch someone you love slowly disappear, their reality altering before your very eyes. Every day you look for that familiar flicker in eyes that once held your whole history, and when you see it, you rejoice. One more day. You’ve been given the gift of one more day.
But what about tomorrow?
Fear loves people with vivid imaginations. When I was pregnant with Grace, and Jacob was not yet two, George took him to a planetarium on the university campus. I knew the program ended at eight pm, and around eight thirty I started watching for their return. I was still watching at nine. Nine thirty. Ten.
If Jacob hadn’t been with him, I would have assumed George bumped into a friend, or something else had delayed him, and I might have been annoyed that he didn’t call to let me know, but not overly concerned. But who keeps a toddler out hours after his bedtime and forgets to call said toddler’s pregnant (read hormonal) mother?
This was long before cell phones. No way to contact George, so I called the university police and was told the planetarium indeed closed at eight, and no, there was no pale blue VW bug in the parking lot. I hung up the phone and stood face to face with an all-too familiar companion.
I should have cast myself on God’s faithfulness, but instead Fear and I, we sat down in the living room and had a nice long chat. We planned their funeral, attended the service, and wept pathetically (it really was a beautiful funeral), and when the car finally pulled into the drive around 11:00, well, let’s just say my husband was dead.
Of course, he knew he should have called, and he was genuinely sorry, especially after he saw my puffy, post-funeral eyes. He’d stopped by the biology office, got caught up in conversation with some fellow grad students, and lost track of time. But the point here is not George’s thoughtlessness. It’s my complete waste of time imagining a tragedy that never happened.
Worry is worse than a waste of time, because it ushers us into a dark valley of agony and torment without any grace to lift us above it. Grace is a gift from God — a by-product of His divine presence and purpose — and He gives it when we actually need it. He goes before us into life’s real battles and losses, and His grace and peace meet us there.
If you’ve ever tasted grace, you know it’s not something you can conjure up. You can only receive it. Grace defies imagination. It’s the “immeasurably more” of God, the peace that passes understanding. When fear projects us or our loved ones into hypothetical disaster, we face the horror alone. There’s no such thing as hypothetical grace.
God offers daily bread. He says, “Come to Me, and I will give you rest. Take no thought (no worry, no fear) for your life, your future, these things over which you have no control. The birds, the lilies, they understand that I give what is best, even in cold, storm, drought, or flood. Be like them. No, really. I mean it. Be like them.”
So I walk into the kitchen and greet my mother, and she turns her head slowly, and she smiles. The flicker is there, and she speaks my name. My father prepares her lunch, and she thanks him, and it’s a simple life with a slow pace. Everything slow. A part of me wants to speed things up, and a part of me wants to freeze time forever, but the moments come one breath at a time, and I can choose to enter them and find the grace waiting there.
Alzheimer’s isn’t a party. But even Alzheimer’s can be a gift.
She never played piano before. Never took a single lesson. But she plays it now. It happened by chance at Christmas time, a child’s toy keyboard left on the ottoman, and Mom leaning over and plucking out Joy to the World, all of us stunned to silence. Stunned to joy.
The next day my brother went to a music store and bought a real keyboard. It lives in their dining room, and we often play it. She picks out familiar tunes by ear, and I play an accompaniment, and we sing.
Her filters are gone, and that means she sometimes says cruel or careless things. But she’s also free like a child is free — unselfconscious, willing to try and fail. She plucks out the notes, correcting the wrong ones while still keeping rhythm, because this music has always been inside her, and now there’s nothing left to keep it caged. It blossoms like the lilies of the field. Takes flight like the birds of the heavens. It fills the room and fills our hearts, and we drink it in like water from the brook Cherith. Like Elijah’s miracle. Like God’s gift.
Tomorrow the brook may dry up, but the God who gives us Cherith today will give us exactly what we need then. And when fear sidles up and invites me to chat about the future, I won’t have to invent excuses. I’ll tell the truth.
I don’t have time to entertain fear. All I have is today, and today is filled with grace.
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(I learned this song when I was seven years old and remember singing it with my family in several-part harmony on long car trips. Yesterday Mom and I played it while Dad recorded on my phone — a sweet memory to stash away and to share here with you. Today.)
Giving thanks in community for (#398 – 410)
warm sunshine and lunch outside on the deck
bolts of fabric, a party for the eyes
sweet potato chips
conversation with old friends
waking to pray in the night
snippets from the Philippines
God’s Word taught with power
a slow pace that reveals grace everywhere
Alzheimer’s, RA, brain injury, gifts to my family
(because brokenness is the path to redemption)