There have been two dear people in my life who have been diagnosed with the mind-twisting disease of Alzheimer’s.
My heart has been seized by grief on more than one occasion when precious memories and the ability to grasp the here and now have been just out of reach in these precious women.
Coming face to face with Alzheimer’s has caused me to reflect deeply on the multitude of memories and relationships I far too easily take for granted.
A week ago, I found myself sitting in a room, surrounded by a group of elderly souls who were filled with joy as they participated in a time of singing and bell ringing.
That proved to be sublime in its simplicity.
Off to my far right was a woman with a face that showed no sign of participation; her eyes seemed vacant and she stared in one spot the entire time. But I detected slight movement and my eyes followed down, down, down and there I saw it.
Her left foot.
It was tapping.
Suddenly I was smiling broadly enough for the both of us and I stared in awe. I sensed a simple joy in her that overshadowed the emotionless face. It was as if I was being let in on a little secret, only she and I knew, I felt a gentle squeeze of my heart.
To my left was the sweet singing voice of a lady who I am certain spent many years singing in church. Her love of the melody and lingering notes, combined with extra runs of expertly delivered sonnet, brought me a longing to hear more and caused me to lean a little more left to soak up her love of the song.
In front of me was a sweet woman with a crooked smile whose soft curls were bouncing. No “secrets” in her enjoyment of the choir–her body was alive experiencing each note up and down the scale. At a particular crashendo she rose to her feet, sang loudly and with gusto, albeit totally off key – but she drew me in with her joyful noise.
As she sang, her set of bells were ringing without any particular rhythm, but to her own beat as she constantly lifted up voice replete with gestures of ringing praise. I giggled as I wondered if she had always been “that friend” her entire life. The one who was full of life, the “fun one” filled with spunk. But I also pondered, was this new for her, had she found her wild abandon when “appearances” were finally stripped away.
And next to me … well, next to me I heard the voice of my dear one, pitch perfect, crisp and clear, strong and with absolute recollection magnificently singing hymn after hymn … and I was moved deeply in my spirit. Regardless of what else was no longer there, my heart seized as I realized what was – words of praise and adoration to Him.
My eyes filled with tears and I became keenly aware that this praise offered by those this world has all but forgotten, this praise … this day … was pure, true and genuine. For in their genuine, unashamed joy of worship each one around me exposed my pride and drew me to God’s throne in repentance.
For me, on this day, Alzheimer’s revealed to me that far too often I am concerned about man and play my part based on the expectations of others, rather than simply fearing, and loving God.
We have a tendency to feel sorry for and avoid those living in long-term care facilities. As I sat there surrounded by those far closer to heaven than most, I wondered if it is the rest of us who need the sympathy.
I thought of Ecclesiastes and our chasing after the wind and how much of what we tangle our time and mind with truly is meaningless, meaningless.
My heart ached for the simple. My soul longed for the unencumbered. And in that moment I knew that, though society overlooks and forgets those plagued by the ravaging effects of age, we are the ones who walk through life not truly living it.
And I begged God to rescue me, to grant me the grace and mercy to live everyday of my life with my heart focused only on Him.