Giving Thanks for Dementia?


From personal experience, I agree with Ann Voskamp in her book 1,000 Gifts when she says, "The only way to fight a [negative] feeling is with a [positive] feeling." In other words, give thanks in all things, which is the thesis of her book.

When I feel sad and depressed, I feel helpless and hopeless. But, after reading 1,000 Gifts, I learned that I have a powerful, God-given weapon for combating those emotions: thanksgiving. And though it is easier to dwell on the negative, ultimately, it doesn't do any good, nor does it seek God and His purposes.

So, now we come to my dear mother's dementia. She is 58 years old. She's been diagnosed for 6 years. She will die of this ugly disease unless God calls her home sooner. She can no longer be independent or alone. She has difficulty communicating and being understood. She forgets to eat unless someone reminds her. And probably, most difficult for all of us: she can no longer serve the friends and family around her in the way that always gave her such gratification.

What is there to give thanks about? Everything in me, that is in my sinful flesh, says, "Nothing. There is nothing. There is no good. There cannot be. And there never will be." From the bottom of my soul, I ache, grieve, mourn. Until your own sweet mama slips away from you while she is still alive, you cannot understand the pain.

And yet, God reigns.

He has not forgotten my mother. Or me. Or my father or brother or aunts or the friends of my mother. Dementia does not tie God's hands. He has provided for my mother's greatest need: He has redeemed her with the death of His Son on Calvary. He will not turn His back on us. Dementia does not limit Him. "[Nothing] will be able to separate us for the love of God that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:39) And so, out of obedience, clinging to the promises of Him who loves us, painful though it is: I WILL give thanks. Even for dementia. I must.  Because either there is purpose in this disease and thus, hope; or there is no meaning, and only despair.

How can I give thanks for dementia?

I've forced myself to ask this question over the past weeks and months. Here is a small sample of the answers to which God has opened my eyes. What good can possibly come from this disease?

  • His Greater Glory. Those who suffer in their bodies during this life will bring all the more glory to God when He raises them again to life and restores them with new and glorious bodies. 
  • Sweet Goodbyes. The slow progression of this illness has allowed us many goodbyes, and has allowed us to savor times together, rather than the pain of a sudden or violent death.
  • Cultivating Virtue. Dementia has helped me reflect on the virtues I would like to cultivate now, in order that they become ingrained in me for a time when I might no longer be making conscious choices about my own behavior.
  • Teaching Service. My children are extremely sensitive and gentle with their grandmother, and by extension, with those who are lonely, hurting, or have special needs. 
  • Bringing Community Together. Both where I live, and in my mother's area, people regularly ask how she is doing, and some even pitch in to keep her company and support my father. Some people sometimes even ask how I am handling the illness.
  • Reevaluating Priorities. Throughout my mom's illness, my husband and I have continued to ask big and important questions about our own marriage, finances, leisure time, and faith. In prosperous and good times, we would not have needed to have these conversations or reflect on mistakes we have made. Thus, dementia has positively shaped our future together.
  • Valuing Life. This illness is a reminder that the value of a person does not consist of what they can give back to society. Instead, value comes from God bestowing meaning and purpose on each individual, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God gives us an opportunity to let our lights shine for Him, and my mother, in a world where discarding life is common.
  • Keeping Loneliness in Perspective. As much as I long for the relationship with my mother again, and my children's grandma, I know that only God and His presence can fill the hole in my heart.
  • Evangelism. Perhaps God will use my mom's story to bring us into contact with others, who will then hear the story of His faithfulness, and put their trust in Jesus.
  • Clinging to God's Promises. Sometimes it takes hitting 'rock bottom' before remembering God and His promises. When there's nowhere to turn, but to the Maker of Heaven and Earth, Scripture and its promises become all the more precious. I don't just read God's Word, I pray it. I shout it back to Him. I cry and cling and wrestle with it. I demand that God keep His promises. And He does.
    • Psalm 55:22- Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
    • Philippians 4:6- Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.
    • Isaiah 40:1, 2- "Comfort, yes comfort My people!" Says your God. "Speak comfort...and cry out to her That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned."
    • John 3:16- For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
    • Jeremiah 29:11- For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
    • Job 19:25, 26- I know that my redeemer lives...and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes.
    • Psalm 73:26- My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
    • Psalm 26:5- Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
    • Revelation 2:10- Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (This is my mother's confirmation verse.)

I'll grant there are probably many more reasons behind this illness. Dementia doesn't mean that God has forgotten my mother. That's not why she, and we, are going through this. I trust that He is using her, behind the scenes, to accomplish His amazing purposes.

Is there any good in dementia? If Mom could, she would cry out, "Yes!" I have no other choice, but to submit my own will to the Lord's. May He help us and hold us until we can see all things clearly in our Heavenly home.

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TAGS: Healthcare, Worldview, Dementia, Thanksgiving

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