Grace at work in dementia
It’s been almost a year now since I got a phone call from my older brother telling me that my dad was now back in my life. In that year, my dad and I regularly chat on the phone, and I’ve gone to see him a few times in Seattle. The past year has been a world-wind of catching up with him on what’s been going on in his life.
For six years my dad wasn’t in my life. He moved to Eastern Washington and no one knew where he was. When I got that phone call last July that he was in Harborview Hospital in Seattle, Washington, my wife and I jumped in our car and drove nine hours to Seattle from Boise, Idaho to see him. Since that time I’ve gone to Seattle two other times. Both times I spent significant time with my dad and greatly enjoyed seeing and visiting with him.
Recently I was reflecting on the past year with my dad and while doing that I asked some friends what they thought I should write about. One of my friends said I should write on “how I’m seeing God at work in my life through my dad’s dementia.” Since I was already reflecting on the events of the past year, I thought this would be a good time to sit down and write some thoughts on the issue of dementia, its impact on the individual, the immediate family, as well as what I have learned over the past year as one who has had to deal with this devastating disease.
First, to be frank, dementia is hard for me to deal with. I have a hard time reading about it or even thinking about what it will do to my dad. When I do think about it or read about it I have a hard time keeping myself composed, and I often break out in tears. While I don’t suppress how I feel, recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been handling my dad’s dementia in a much healthier way. As I’ve been able to do this, I’ve also noticed I’ve been able to have more regular phone calls with my dad and to be more of a support and encouragement to him. In turn I’ve become more aware of how dementia affects him.
Second, dementia is not only hard, it is devastating. One day my dad won’t be able to care for himself at all. He won’t be able to perform hardly any of the daily things we take for granted such as putting on clothes, going to the restroom, etc. My dad’s dementia will take away his ability to function. For now though my dad can remember things in great detail. He still remembers things from his childhood and the tasks he performed. It’s been really special to hear story after story about the things my dad has done in his life as well as to learn from his immense knowledge on a variety of topics. Even while dementia is hard and devastating, I’m just plain glad my dad is back in my life. That in itself is a grace I believe God has given me.
Third, life-altering diseases aren’t just difficult and devastating for the patient, they also greatly impact the family. When I first heard what kind of dementia my dad suffers from and read about its likely debilitating impact on him, I was inconsolable for days. Learning about how my dad would die from this disease was depressing. The only person who was able to console me even a little bit and to make myself feel better was my amazing wife Sarah. Through this entire situation my wife has been a shining example of God’s grace and I thank God for her. While dementia will take my dad’s physical life one day, it cannot steal the time I am having now with my dad nor the memories of the past that I have of him.
Fourth, the Gospel truly changes everything. On a road my junior year in high school I took a walk with my dad. Prior to that walk, the Lord had dealt with me concerning my unforgiveness and bitterness. On Father’s Day 2012, the Lord again placed a burden on my heart to pray for my dad and intercede for him. The next month I would see him for the first time in six years after last seeing him in his physical office in Bellevue, Washington. I’ve watched over the past year as my dad has struggled at times to take his medicine as well as other situations and in turn have marveled at how God is at work in his life. In addition to this, God has also been working in my own heart. The hole that I had in my heart from my dad leaving has left and in its place has come
a heart of love and compassion for my dad and those who struggle with dementia.
I truly believe this is a work of God because I used to be very angry and depressed about how my dad left but now I’m just glad to have my dad as part of my life. When I first saw him last year I hugged my dad and whispered in his ear, “I love you. I forgive you and am thankful you are back.” To be honest with you, I can’t get over the fact that my dad is back, and I believe the reason is God has shown my dad the compassionate, merciful and loving eyes of Jesus.
Fifth, helping those with dementia is also hard. As I’ve been getting more involved in my dad’s life, the Lord has also brought others into my life whose dementia is far worse. This has been difficult to see. My dad can write, receive and read letters. I write down directions for my dad to follow so he doesn’t forget his plan to read and study his Bible. I’ve learned in the past year that not everyone with dementia can do this. I’ve also realized with my dad that if I don’t write things down, he will likely forget. He himself writes down what he needs to do every day and shows his plan to his nurse. While dealing with my dad’s dementia is hard at times, it is just as hard to help him understand what he needs to do. I’ve learned that when I pray about my dad and how to help him I realize afterwards that I already have the answer, that of being an open vessel for God to use for His glory.
Finally, there is a point to this post that applies to you dear reader. I don’t know if you know someone who has dementia or a life-threatening disease but chances are at some point in your life you may. As you continue to grow in Jesus, grow in understanding how He views you as an adopted child of God. Understand that genuine service for God doesn’t seek the acclaim or praise of men; rather it seeks the praise of our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As you minister to those with life threatening diseases or disorders, be patient with them as God is patient with you. Understand what they need most is the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts through the person and finished work of Jesus.
In conclusion, I have a lot to learn about dementia and extending grace towards those who suffer from this disease. It’s only been a year, and I know there are people out there who have been there and done that. Through this process I’ve been continually humbled and amazed at how much God is working not just in my own life but also in my dad’s life.
Be patient and loving because of what God has done in your life. Grow in your identity in Jesus and encourage those with dementia and other diseases to know Jesus and make Him known. God has a purpose for everything and uses everything in our lives for His glory. If anything, I’m learning even at a deeper level because of my dad’s situation to not only enjoy God, but most importantly to be an open vessel ready to be used by King Jesus wherever I am.
The truth is the more I encourage my dad to follow Jesus, the more I am admonishing myself to follow Jesus and reflect His love and grace in every area of my life. Even with my dad’s dementia, everyday I’m reminded of God’s grace at work in dementia. That precious truth warms my heart and causes me to praise God for His all sufficient and amazing grace.
This post first appeared at Blogging Theologically.