When the Connections Appear to Dim

“Your father has Alzheimers” – that was the diagnosis given to us several years ago.  The weight of that statement struck our hearts with dread and a heaviness of grief as we processed that this man we loved would lose his connection with us and with the world around him.

As we left that appointment, I had a couple of minutes alone with my father and asked him if he understood what the doctor had said? He replied, “Most of it.” I then asked him how he felt about the diagnosis. I will never forget his reply to me. “I will accept whatever God has for me.”

My beloved father, now nearing his 91st birthday. A faithful cross-cultural servant. A talented surgeon. One who helped to usher new life into the world. Who worked with leprosy patients touching them when others considered them untouchable.  The well-loved community doctor – the one who performed life saving surgeries and prayed with his patients. As a young family serving cross-culturally ourselves back in Taiwan, we were introduced not by our own names, but as Dr. West’s daughter and son-in-law.

Now this man who was in charge of operating rooms and saving lives is relegated to this disease where all connections with the present and the past are quickly fading.  It appears that he no longer remembers that he spent his life working and serving in Asia.

We recently moved Dad into a Memory Care unit because he no longer can remember where his room is or whether he ate breakfast. He cannot remember who came to visit or the fact that his wife recently went home to heaven. Most days he knows me, and I am thankful for that moment.

A description of John Newton in his later years resonates with me in describing my Dad’s current condition. “Newton’s mind could be compared to a malfunctioning but still operating lighthouse that punctuated long periods of darkness with irregular but illuminating flashes of light.” (John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken)

In the fog of this disease, my dad’s life long daily habits of reading the Word, Scripture memory and prayer remain a part of his life. Although it appears that the connections are dim, Dad continues to be connected to his heavenly Father.

Recently, I found myself again facing the difficult task of telling my dad goodbye as it was time for us to return overseas. I was struggling with leaving him in such a vulnerable state.

He was resting on his bed when I went to say goodbye to him. I told him that I would be heading back to East Asia the next day. He opened his eyes with a look of surprise and then proceeded to ask me in Mandarin, “Wei shemma  – Why?” I had not heard him speak in Chinese for several years and fumbled to reply back to him in Chinese, “Yin wei Shen….Because the Lord….” I paused, thinking for a moment about what to say next. Dad then continued in Mandarin, “Because the Lord has prepared the way for you.”

That unexpected moment of clarity truly was an “illuminating flash of light”! Not only was it a connection with my dad, but also with my Heavenly Father. I was overwhelmed by the gentle, kind confirmation from the Lord that HE had indeed prepared the way for me to return to East Asia with the blessing of my Dad and that HE had also prepared and provided the way for my Dad in the Memory Care Unit.

God promises to never leave or forsake his children. He remains connected to us even when it seems we are in a fog. His love is steadfast and the plans of His heart are for our good and for His glory.

He showed His faithfulness in the past by providing enough manna to sustain the children of Israel – one day at a time. Our same God does that for us as well, one day at a time, as we connect with Him and gather our daily sustenance from Him.

What are some of your favorite ways to gather your daily sustenance from Him?

How have you see God provide enough manna for one day for you?

20 Comments

  1. Carrie January 11, 2017

    Oh, Julie, I read your story with tears in my eyes. I fear sometimes for my own mother’s health. What a glorious reminder of Abba’s care.

    Also, I cannot help but wonder if your family knew the Dennis family in Taiwan. They and the Torjesens are old family friends of ours.

    1. JulieB January 12, 2017

      Carrie-
      Trusting our Father’s loving hand in the care of our family is a good place to be. And yes….in the small community of ex pats we all were friends….and attended school together! Isn’t it fun to have all of these connections?

      1. Carrie January 12, 2017

        Oh, that is wonderful! I’ll let Sandy know I ‘bumped into you’ here. Not sure if she is on Velvet Ashes yet.

        1. Amy Young January 12, 2017

          This makes me happy :). I love how the Father graciously connects us to others even over our losses.

          1. JulieB January 13, 2017

            Yes Amy – so fun to see His connections! Reminds me of how I met you that time in Denver!

  2. Joy January 13, 2017

    This is so beautiful, comforting, and encouraging. Thank you.

    1. JulieB January 15, 2017

      Thanks Joy! I am glad that this little story was both comforting and encouraging. It is good to hear stories of God at work – it gives Him lots of glory!

  3. Anna January 15, 2017

    This is so beautiful…thank you for sharing!

    1. JulieB January 15, 2017

      Thanks Anna- God has a way of making beauty out of our sufferings and difficulties. I love that His story is bigger and it’s all about making His name famous!

  4. Liz Bolt January 15, 2017

    My Mom had Alzheimer’s and she was well aware of her diagnosis for several years. One day she asked me.” What if I forget Jesus? ” I told her I did not think she would but I knew for certain He would not forget her. I was right on both accounts. Long after things were very muddled for her she would pray clearly. Not prayers from long ago but on target for the situation. It was not often, but it was enough. She has been gone 8years now and I have reflected much on those 7 years of illness. I believe we forget that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and think it is the other way (I think that is a paraphrase of a CS Lewis quote.) Our connection to Jesus is eternal and does not require a functioning mind or body. I had a moment with her abt a month before her death and she looked directly in my eyes, knew without a doubt who I was and said….”but how are YOU? ” To the end, still my Mom, still caring.

    1. JulieB January 15, 2017

      Liz- thanks for sharing this about your mom. What a precious memory and such an encouragement to your heart to know that your Mom wanted most of all to never forget Jesus. I love that! I love how God uses these special moments to encourage our hearts in very difficult times. I think this is truly what our hope of heaven is all about.
      My Dad also prays the most beautiful prayers – acknowledging who God is and all of his attributes and declaring God’s sovereignty. They are prayers that are not so much a list of requests but more about the character of God and sometimes about the situation. It is sobering to me to think that right now the spiritual habits and disciplines I am establishing in my life are what will carry me in my old age. A book which has been very encouraging to me is – Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease by Dr. Benjamin Mast. A reminder that the practices we establish now really do matter!

  5. Patty Stallings January 15, 2017

    Julie, I have been thinking about you and your dad since I first read this post. I resonate with the struggle of saying goodbye when your parent is so vulnerable and the kindness of a confirmation from God when your heart is tugged in so many directions. My lovely, kind, and gentle mom also had Alzheimer’s.I miss her terribly, and I am grateful for the long goodbye, though painful it was.
    When my mom reached the point that she didn’t know who her children were and couldn’t engage in a conversation, we would sing hymns with her and she would remember verses we had forgotten! One of her favorites was “I come to the garden alone… and He walks with me and He talks with me…” Alzheimer’s is such an isolating disease, eating away at connections with family and friends, but our Faithful Father and Dearest Friend never leaves or forsakes us. I imagined her in the garden with Him when she seemed so far from us. I was comforted by knowing Alzheimer’s is a disease of the mind and body, but could not touch my mom’s spirit. Who knows what God was doing in the spirit realm to prepare her to live with Him forever. When she was finally released from this world, she left in a burst of joy. We have a good and faithful God, always.

    1. JulieB January 15, 2017

      Patti – the “long goodbye”…so true. The grieving of each remembrance lost. And the joy and encouragement of each little “open window” moment where a connection takes place. Music is such a wonderful place of connection for our souls. As a nurse, I always encouraged the families of my patients to play favorite music for their loved one. My dad loves the old hymns and like your mom, can sing many of the verses without even looking at the book! And around my stepmother’s bed in November we played some of her favorite music as we said our final goodbyes. She loved the Hallelujah Chorus and we could only imagine the great chorus of worship that she got to participate in as she entered into heaven. I have found that music is not only comforting to the “patient” but also to those of us who are grieving. It ministers so deeply to my soul!
      I so enjoy your writing Patty – hope one day we can connect face to face over a cup of tea!

      1. Patty Stallings January 16, 2017

        Some day we will be in the same place at the same time. I’m sure of it! And looking forward to it!

  6. Julie Campbell January 15, 2017

    Love this! I have found with my Dad that music comforts him! He loves to hear the old hymns and gospel music! There have been many nights when I have sat at his bedside and sung “He Touched Me,” to him over and over again!That is his favorite song! Sometimes he will chime in and sing with me! We also have some CD’s and DVD’s with old hymns. Dad used to lead the music at the church we went to when I was growing up. Sometimes when the hymns are playing, his hands will get to moving like he is leading music! These are priceless memories for me! I leave music on for him every night. Knowing he is in God’s hands brings comfort although it is so hard watching him forget so many things. The other priceless thing is that he never skips a beat when he is praying! Thankful to God for these bright spots that help keep me going!

    1. JulieB January 16, 2017

      Oh Julie – so nice to see you here in the comments. What a sweet story about your Dad and his” leading the singing” when he hears some of his favorite songs! This season is difficult but so glad that the Lord gives us little encouragements to keep us going! Praying for you and your family.

  7. Deanna January 15, 2017

    I care weekly for a high school friend who is now in a memory unit. Most brilliant girl in our class, but now at 73 she matches your father’s mentality. So good that she always knows me and trusts me. Sometimes the old sarcasm slips out and you forget it’s not consistent!

    1. JulieB January 16, 2017

      Deanna- What a sweet friend you are to go and visit weekly! I so appreciate some friends who do that for my Dad. You are a blessing to her and to her family for sure!

  8. Beth Anderson January 16, 2017

    Hi Julie – I so appreciated your thoughts in this article as I am beginning to experience them with my mom. In packing for a recent visit to her who, as you know, lives out of state from me, I grabbed at the last minute a handful of hymn arrangements for the piano. The Lord knew that a scheduled pianist for her care facility was sick the first night I was there. I offered to fill in for her and played for an hour – and subsequently every day while I was there. Yes, music touches the soul and often when I play in such facilities, a voice or two that rarely speaks will suddenly start singing along. The many years of singing the same hymns do make their mark and caution me to be careful with the words I put in my heart, whether they are sung or not! “Your words have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against You.”

    1. JulieB January 23, 2017

      Hi Beth-
      Nice to see you here! I always loved hearing you play the piano….and I bet that was a wonderful special treat for your mom to hear you play again. What a gift that opportunity was for you and for her. God made our hearts to respond to music and I love it and love seeing how others react to it too. Such a great gift you have to share your music with others!

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