My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s, but it’s still Thanksgiving!

26 11 2019

BlogIt’s a terrible disease!  We all know that!  Watching Alzheimer’s slowly and insidiously destroy memories, and wipe away parts of a loved one’s past, is like . . . dropping your grandfather’s favorite coffee mug: the one you’ve been saving for decades, afraid to use out of fear of breaking it, and then when you finally do, that’s exactly what happens!  The mug shatters and is gone; and it’s departure takes all kinds of stories with it.  It snatches them right out of your hands, slowly perhaps, but over time removing every last shard of loving familiarity that for so long had found a home in the corner of your loved one’s heart.  Even if at times that mug was forgotten, unintentionally ignored because it was hidden in the back of the cupboard, you knew it was there, and found comfort in that knowledge.

As as pastor, I’ve been dealing with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia for more than three decades; but now it has hit home, and things are very different this time.  My mother-in-law was diagnosed last spring, and the disease is moving quickly — too quickly!  She’s been visiting for over a week now, and my time with her has been both sad and joyful.  The worst thing is watching my father-in-law and my wife attempt to navigate the situation; but the joy continues.  And the joy is what I will remember about what may indeed be my mother-in-law’s last visit to the States.  Because while she is indeed sick, she has not stopped laughing.

No, she’s not been able to fully follow or participate in all of our conversations.  We’ve answered the same 4-5 questions, 14-15 times; and she has occasionally used words that my wife has considered to be slightly ‘inappropriate.’  She’s been more open and honest about the ‘wrongness’ of my taking her only daughter away from her 35 years ago; and clearly a few of the much-needed ‘filters’ that the rest of us have are gone.  But she is still laughing!  Amazingly, in spite of all that is going on in her head, she is still smiling, and she is still laughing . . . at herself, at me, and yes even at life!

My mother-in-law is happy.   She knows that she’s lived long and well!  At 82 she has been blessed with a wonderful husband, an amazing daughter (my wife), two loving sons, ten wonderful grandchildren, and five beautiful great-grandchildren.  Her faith continues to sustain her, and her love of singing and classical music continues to bring her joy.  And when she makes a mistake, or forgets something that she knows she should remember, she just laughs.  When we jokingly tell her to stop talking so we can watch the news, she just keeps on mumbling and muttering, and laughs at us.  And when we give her a hard time for something she has said or done, she smiles and laughs right along with us.  Oh, don’t get me wrong – she has her moments.  There are times when she, and those are around her, are clearly frustrated by all that comes with the disease; but laughter persists none-the-less!

People rarely die from Alzheimer’s, but there’s no doubt my mother-in-law is in the gloaming of life.  And I know already that in her death, she will model the same faith and joy that she modeled throughout her life.  She knows full well that dying is part of living; and her laughter is not the laughter of someone nervously trying to cover up what some might consider an embarrassing illness.  Her laughter is the laughter spoken of in Proverbs 31.  When she ‘laughs at the time to come,’ she is laughing out of joy.  Strength and dignity are indeed the clothing of my mother-in-law, and her laughter is born in the knowledge that whatever comes her way, she is being held in the arms of eternity.  She is being held in the arms of God, and there is absolutely nothing to fear!  So she, and we, remain grateful.

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks.  And even in the midst of this dreadful disease, that is what we are doing.  We are giving thanks.  We are giving thanks for the time we have together.  We are giving thanks for the love of family.  And we are giving thanks for laughter that can sustain us even in the darkest of days.

 

 

 


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One response

27 11 2019
Marjorie Daniel

So sorry to hear this, yet I feel encouraged by your words and how there is still laughter Thanks for sharing.

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