Meet Our Newest Family Member, Alzheimer's Disease
By Stacie Ruth Stoelting
Bright Light Ministry
CBN.com A dirty, smelly man sat in my Grandma Hilda’s dark den. His glossed-over, foggy eyes glared at me. His mouth, surrounded by stubbly whiskers, moved. He swore.
Undeterred, I took a seat beside him. Though rude, I determined not to attempt conversation with the character. I turned on the television.
Billy Graham’s comforting anthem, “Just As I Am,” blared from the television’s speakers. A scene flashed across its screen: thousands of repentant sinners swarmed down the stairs and through the aisles. Then Dr. Graham soothingly spoke.
“Come, come to the cross…” As always, I felt inspired to see a crusade. Seeing one reminded me of when I received Jesus as my Savior. Immediately, I entered deep thought.
A voice interrupted my concentration.
“Boy, what are you doing?” The man, wearing an orange and brown plaid un-tucked shirt, leaned in my direction. His breath smelled.
In response to his question, the glider, in which I sat, rocked more quickly. My lips didn’t crack.
His question flustered me for two reasons: One, I was a young girl. Two, I desired to focus on the program rather than confront the disgruntled, grisly man to my left.
My cheeks heated faster than the nearby radiator. I squeezed the armrests. I sighed.
“Papa, I love you,” I tenderly turned and whispered into his elderly ear. In response, he took my hand, kissed it, and slowly, sincerely rasped, “I love you, too.”
Papa suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. I suffered from it, too.
The den scene served as a pivotal moment in my life. It forced reality upon my denial. No longer could I deny the fact that Papa Ray had indeed joined the ranks of millions of Alzheimer’s disease victims. This fact cut my soul. As a preteen in the late 1990s, I brokenheartedly added a new item to my long list of insecurities: Papa did not recognize me; he thought I looked like a common boy.
When he called me a “boy,” I suffered not from the term’s meaning, but from the overwhelming implication: Papa forgot me. The den scene’s emotional blow bruised my soul.
As time passed, Papa Ray did not hurt me by calling me “boy” again, and he did remember me sometimes. Yet he behaved incompetently in other ways. His appearance mimicked a homeless man because of his fear of water; he refused baths. He stopped using the bathroom; he wore diapers. He restlessly wandered; he ran away from home. He lost touch with reality; he often hallucinated. All symptoms of Alzheimer’s pierced my heart like poisonous arrows from an enemy.
Aggressive Alzheimer’s tainted everything: visits, holidays, and hopes. Grandma withdrew into a reclusive lifestyle as she devoted her time to care for him. My Aunt Ruth lived with them to assist Grandma.
During visits, my family tiptoed around the perimeters of Papa’s impatience. We stifled laughter to evade his paranoia. Every family member accommodated our newest family member: Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s entered the home and stayed there for a total of twelve years. Then it departed. It left when Papa went to the nursing home. When Papa and Alzheimer’s moved out, a piece of my heart moved out, too.
But I learned to love Papa with a deeper love and to separate the disease from the man. I realized that Papa’s soul still lived in the smelly, tomb-like body. Just as the outside of an ugly cocoon betrays beauty within, so Alzheimer’s enveloped and entrapped my Papa’s beautiful soul. Indeed, no matter how hard it tried, Alzheimer’s did not steal his soul or his love.
Yes, I missed my pal: the handsome fastidious man with the omnipresent scent of Old Spice. I yearned for his sparkly, lively cobalt eyes and smiles. I longed for the one who always made time to play or talk with me. Daydreams of “pre-den incident” days visited me: mental movies of our “adventures” in the outdoors, playing games in the den, and many others. How I hoped for healing!
I prayed for Jesus to heal him. I cried. I begged. Jesus’ healing hand stayed away. I wrestled with God.
Yet, as I wrestled, I discovered that God never abandoned me. He actually drew closer as I drew closer to Him. For the first time, I understood how Romans 8:38-39 (NASB) applied to my life: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In fact, I discovered that the Scripture applied to Alzheimer’s. With Jesus’ light streaming into my depressed den incident-induced darkness, I discovered that Alzheimer’s could not take away God’s love for my family.
Therefore, though the watching of Billy Graham’s crusade had been interrupted by Alzheimer’s, God’s love had not been interrupted. Faithful Grandma Hilda’s tender, loving care of Papa further proved the point. Yes, through Alzheimer’s, I discovered unconditional love.
At the nursing home, years after the “den incident,” I professed the same sentence over and over: “Papa, I love you.” More often than not, the real Papa peered through the curtains of the dark disease and smiled his endearing smile, “I love you, too.”
Indeed, I emerged from the dark den of depression because I learned this: Despite deadly diseases, God’s love never dies.
Read Part 2: Extraordinary Love: Tips for Families Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease
Stacie Ruth Stoelting and Bright Light Ministry share how to have victory over Alzheimer’s disease! At 15, Stoelting wrote Still Holding Hands (2002), depicting her grandparents’ lives, romance, and victory through Christ. The newly updated version of her book released November 2005 and includes tips for caregivers and tips for helping families. At 20, Stoelting sang for President Bush. In dramatic programs for all ages, she speaks, acts, sings, and entertainingly inspires. To discover more or send prayer requests, visit www.brightlightministry.com.
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