I have written a number of posts about dementia. I hope you find something helpful in these posts, even though I have written them for the sake of my own processing about the issue. This post is an effort to process my grief.
I have had several meetings with the manager of the aged care facility where Mum lived (she has now moved to another facility). Mum tells me one thing and the manager at the nursing home tells me something different. Mum is uncooperative and fights the staff. Now it takes three people to hoist her up and transfer her from one spot to another. It is getting increasingly difficult for them to get her into the shower. Mum told me that she is not eating because the food is terrible and she has lost weight. In reality she eats a lot and has seconds. She has gained weight and they are restricting her seconds at meals.
Mum is becoming more confused. She finds it difficult to write words. She confuses words. She told me that she had a minor heart attack but the nurse gave her something and she got better. I expect it was indigestion and they gave her Mylanta. She cannot listen to the voice messages on the phone. She forgets the names of lots of people, including her sister recently. Anything that involves making a decision is impossible for her.
The decline physically and mentally has been very rapid. Mum gets annoyed because the care staff won’t let her get into her recliner on her own. She said, “I have been doing this for years.” But Mum cannot stand any more. She cannot feel her feet or bend her knees. She is refusing to accept this reality. She still asks if her grandson can pick her up for Sunday lunch, insisting that she can fit in his car. But she cannot get into a normal car because there is no way to transfer her from the wheelchair to the car since she cannot stand or turn or get her feet into the car. She knows this and yet refuses to believe that anything has changed.
I am rather stressed by these changes. I know that I cannot cure old age or make any difference to the dementia. Sometimes the grief forces its way out and I lose the capacity to function. I have to live life on autopilot.
I know that there is hope for a future in which there is no dementia or frailty. Jesus has risen and he will raise his people up too. I know that none of these things which can diminish the personhood or separate believers from the love of God. My mother is valuable and worthy of being loved. All this is true and yet none of it diminishes the grief. There is absolutely nothing romantic about dementia or old age. Death is death. It is inexorable. Nothing we do can stop it coming towards us.
The Bible does not gloss over these things and say that we should all be okay with it. It does not tell us, “It’s not that bad. Everything is really fine.” Instead, there an anticipation, a groaning as we wait for what is to come.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Rom 8:18-25).
By no means to do we have our best life now. Instead, the whole of creation longs for what is to come. The creation groans in anticipation of the glory of God. Christians also groan in anticipation. In fact, the Holy Spirit also groans (Rom 8:26). The groans are an acknowledgement of the fact that this world is fundamentally broken and must be renewed. Death and decay must be overcome and undone. Jesus has conquered death in his death and resurrection (1 Cor 15:21) and yet there is still a victory over death that is to come (1 Cor 15:54-55). Christians know that death comes to every person and we also know that death is not natural to humans. God created us for life with him. So we groan for the renewal of all things (Matt 19:28).
There is no comfort in the acceptance of the inevitable. But there is comfort in the expectation of God’s renewing power that will transform this world into something beyond all that we could imagine. This is the difference between the Christian understanding of death and that of the world. The world in which we live is in denial about death. But as believers in Jesus we need not be in denial about old age and death. The way things are causes us to groan and long for our future glory. When we groan it is a sign that we see beyond this fallen world and into the next.
My grief is real and painful and not going away. But I can groan in anticipation of what is to come.