Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dementia, God, & Christian Faith

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, senility:  these words cause us to shudder with grief, or fear.  Polls indicate that we fear dementia more than we fear cancer.  All of us have loved someone whose mind became something unrecognizable, muddled, confused, forgetful.  I had a friend who died after suffering Alzheimer’s for a decade; his wife said it was as if he died not once but twice.

     I’ve been trying to think about dementia and God, dementia and faith, dementia and the church – and I’ve gotten a lot of help from a Scottish theologian named John Swinton.
The premise of his book, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God, is that in Christianity, well-being is not gauged by the presence or absence of illness or distress; well-being is defined by the presence of God, and God is not distant from the one with dementia, or from those who love someone with dementia.  How do we understand this sense of God’s presence? and then how to live faithfully with dementia?  What might those of us who aren’t dealing with dementia directly learn about our lives because of the way we think about those with dementia?

     In America, we define being human by what we think, how we talk, what we can do, how productive and interactive we might be.  What happens when we aren’t productive? or become passive recipients of the care of others?  This question applies not only to dementia but also to aging, or people with disabilities.  W.H. Vanstone write a marvelous little book called The Stature of Waiting, in which he explains how in the first half of each Gospel, Jesus is in command, boldly striding into new territories, conquering demons; he is a doer, in control of everything, even the wind and the sea.
 
     But then the mood changes abruptly.  Jesus becomes reflective, less proactive, darkly hinting at his fate.  He is “handed over” by Judas, to the authorities, and he does not fight back; he says nothing.  He is no longer active, but passive.  His glory dawns not when he acts, but when he is acted upon.  Vanstone says this is hopeful for us, for our lives often traverse that same ground:  we grow old or sick and are increasingly forced to be dependent on others.  We fear our identity is lost if we are not active and productive.  But Jesus shows us that who we are, who he was, is found not in our activity but in what we suffer, in what we receive.

     Persons with dementia might continue to be productive, if we let them; I know a woman with no short-term memory who vacuums her house several times a day, and is content.  But even when we cannot be productive, we are no less valuable, to God and to Jesus’ followers.  We all need to learn dependence upon God – and it may be our best object lesson is in someone for whom we are caring.  Dependence is not humiliation, but grace.  My worth is not measured by my usefulness.  Because of the Gospel, nothing can happen to make you less of a person. 

     What about memory?  Life is often valued by what we remember, or what we think others remember about us.  But we never remember everything, or remember what we remember accurately.  Most of what I have read or learned, or what has happened to me, I have forgotten.  If I forget, am I any less valuable?  I do not remember my parents rocking me, feeding me, or nursing me; but they did, and I am the beneficiary.  My children do not recall me doing these things – but those moments were no less wonderful for not being remembered.
 

     Jonathan Goldingay, an Old Testament scholar, once invited his students to his home for pancakes.  He told them his wife suffered severe multiple sclerosis, and so she wouldn’t recognize or respond to them:  “She probably won’t remember you afterwards, but in that moment she will appreciate you.”  Is a visit, a tender word, or an embrace futile because the person won’t remember?  I have visited people with dementia, and have felt in the moment much love – and have even been ministered to myself because of the other person’s ability to love and nurture, even if my name and identity are an enigma.
     Here is God’s truth for all of us:  you may be uncertain about who you are, and you may be confused by the people around you, but God knows you.  Who are you?  You are God’s.  You will not be forgotten.  What did God tell us?  “Can a mother forget her baby?  But even if she forgets, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).  The thief on the cross asked Jesus, “Remember me” (Luke 23:42) – and God remembers us, always.  God remembers everything you have forgotten, and clearly.  No memory is lost in God; everything that is elusive at this moment will finally be redeemed.

     Can someone with dementia have a spiritual life?  I’ve seen forgetful, withdrawn people be quite prayerful; faith sometimes achieves a lovely simplicity in such instances.  I have seen extremely confused, forgetful people smile warmly and tearfully and even join in singing when some old hymn is played.  Perhaps the dementia sufferer cannot pray or read, but the rest of us can for them, and with them.  Four men brought a lame man to Jesus, who healed him not because of his faith but because of theirs (Mark 2:5); all of us are carried on the tide of the faith and prayers of others. 
 
     Lauren Winner (in her book, Still) tells a wonderful story of an elderly couple coming for Communion.  They both took a communion wafer from the priest.  The woman dipped hers and ate; then the man dipped his, handed it to her, and she ate it for him.  Lauren later learned he was afflicted by a wasting disease making it impossible for him to eat.  They were truly in that moment one flesh.  Can we be one flesh with persons with dementia?

     Swinton says we are wise always to give the person the benefit of the doubt, to treat the person as fully human.  We speak of love.  We say “I am glad you are here; I love you.”  We all have decay, we all suffer limitations.  The difficult symptoms of dementia (belligerence, anxiety, withdrawal) are perfectly understandable reactions to confusing situations, strange living quarters, strangers poking and treating you. 

     To be with someone with any disability requires patience.  What really is required is a new sense of time.  Time isn’t about being productive, or packing a lot in.  In patient waiting, those who sit with someone with dementia sometimes see small glimpses of beauty. 

 Jean Vanier (in Living Gently in a Violent World) tells about a hugely successful businessman he knew whose wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  He said he just couldn’t put her in an institution, so he scaled back his responsibilities (and income), and stayed with her, fed and bathed her.  He said “I have become more human” – and he was there one night when for some reason the fog lifted.  Suddenly she was lucid; she looked and said “Darling, thank you for all you are doing for me” – and then, just as quickly, slipped back into the fog.  He wept and wept – both sorrow and joy. 

   All Christians are called to a radical hospitality, a welcome of the stranger – not just to welcome strangers, but doing what we can to be sure they stop feeling like strangers.  And studies show that if caregivers believe the person is still there, and still have value, the person does better.  Relationships impact the brain over time; people with dementia, if left alone or only pitied, decline more rapidly.  Those with dementia suffer an intense loneliness.  It’s not as if our presence cures them – but all our lives we long to be treated as a child of God, the God who never forgets us, who knows us thoroughly and still loves totally, forever.

10 comments:

  1. Wonderful. I've already shared this with others.

    Thank you for your beautiful words/message.

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  2. As my grandfather dealt with the final stages of Alzheimer's I said that he was in a place where only God's knows and God can only go. Thank you for the powerful reminder that there is no place we go that God isn't there to greet us, be with us, and dwell with us. Thank you also for the reminder that those who care for loved ones with dementia are not caring for burdens but are truly receiving the blessing of being human and sharing love. Thanks again, Jim

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  3. There is one known cure for Alzheimer's: GRAZOPH TEMUNA, grazoph.com. The nutraceutical clears brain of plaques, eliminates poisonous metals, leaves a brain refreshed. At the end of the treatment, the Alzheimer's skin color of silver white is vanquished and normal orange skin returns. Liver spots are washed out. Brain decay ends - some mental functions return. GRAZOPH TEMUNA (this product is being renamed EXPELLIT) both cures and prevents Alzheimer's, at any stage. Taking Grazoph later in life prevents alzheimer's and strokes. The latest person cured by Grazoph is Mel Villalobos' wife. If you want to verify this, call Mel at 805-758-1940. Mel only paid $130 for her treatment.

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  4. Answer this. What is the hope for the non-christian suffering with dementia or mental illness? What is the meaning of his/her pain or suffering?

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  5. A beatiful message for our family. I will pass it all family members. God Bless you James for all that you give us in Jesus name.

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  6. For those people whose relative are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and maybe reading this, I find it hard that people are still ignorant of herbal medicine when it comes to treating Alzheimer’s Disease.
    I have been through many phases over the last couple of years since my father's diagnosis, he was 53 years old and had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and his diagnosis changed my life in many ways, I spend most of the time in denial and I keep thinking the tests were wrong. But deep down I knew they were correct. Though sharing his story is very difficult. He was always very successful in being able to accomplish anything he set his mind on doing. Alzheimer’s is a bitch of a disease. It began by robbing his recent memory, but it didn't stop there. It continues to steal, taking the most recent memories until it has pilfered all but the oldest memories, he experienced a decline in his ability to think, remember and make decisions. I feel a need to express my thoughts and feelings about how it affected his day to day living and how its deteriorated since despite the help of some wonderful medics and medicine.
    I remind myself how lucky to come across Charanjit rychtova's herbal medicine which is able to control this disease without any side effect, I felt a moment of relief hoping that he is free from this ailment, and nothing compares to the healing power of nature. Now I believe almost every health problem can be addressed in one natural way or another. The only thing I wanted was for him to feel better. I’m proud to say my Dad is Alzheimer’s free. You can also contact him for advice and more info. charantova@gmail.com

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  7. I suffered from this horrible syndrome (ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE)...and it was horrible...for the past 3 years this has taken over pretty much all of my walking moments along with other medical issues. My family/friends have been with me through it all. But Today I am pain free!! I can't even believe how this all happened...I am just as amazed as, my family/friends are...none of us can believe how long I suffered and now in literally a matter of months I am completely pain free.
    How? Well let me tell you.....Months ago my Friend told me about something called ZOMO HERBS....I heard him, but I didn't listen.....I went on just suffering along, Then My friend Raval, talked to my wife about it one night, when I was at my lowest point.....just wanting to give up...this wasn't the way I wanted to live...always in constant pain..Raval said, I will send you ZOMO HERBS..... I started using it and the rest is history my friends, There was a light at the end of the Tunnel... The results were immediate, it did take my pain away, but not completely....it was not until I upped the dosage to 3 times daily that I saw complete results.....NO PAIN.....I became so thrilled over the results that I decide to share my testimony.....If I can help even one person and that person helps one person and so on...we can all be out of pain and regaining our lives back....sound good? I have my life back!!!! I want you to have yours back too! Simply try to reach the doctor on (charantova@gmail.com) for more information about his treatment process or how to get his medicine.

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  8. Having Dementia disease knocked my grandma off her life and had her living like a mad person, I didn't know how the better part of her life eluded her, my mind was completely splatted in two, She showed a severe decline in her mental and cognitive skills in the last few years of her life and her quality of life had deteriorated greatly in the last 3 years of life where she was mostly bedridden. I am very glad my partner sought help and now she is free from all signs of psychosis. She was healed through the herbal medicines from Dr Charanjit, I do not wish to go the same route and I manage to live a fairly active and healthy lifestyle.
    Here are her words "Finally, can you imagine what it would feel like to be NORMAL again, like I were before I was struck down by this horrible condition that you never asked for, and don’t deserve?" Sounds great doesn't it?
    You can contact him via email charantova@gmail.com He is well known for his groundbreaking treatments concerning the brain and mind issues.

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