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Aging is beginning to really have an affect on me. And, perhaps oddly, I am not referring to myself. I am referring to others in my life and those for whom I care about deeply.
The inevitable process of aging brings change, and since I struggle with this, it tends to be a challenge for me. I have a hard time admitting how our roles often change from the child - parent relationship to the opposite, and my heart breaks with the knowledge that this is now a fact that I must embrace.
The reason for this? It's a new encounter with a disease that many know more about than they would prefer: Dementia. For me, it is a word that up until recently conjured up thoughts about memory loss and forgetfulness, but now brings the realization of so much more.
My grandmother had Alzheimer's and passed away when my teens were young, so I have had some experience with neurodegenerative diseases. However, due to the extreme nature of my grandmother's experience, I had always mistakenly put the "two" afflictions into basically two categories: Dementia - not so bad, and Alzheimer's - the worst. I'm not sure why my brain automatically assigned them this way, but it did.
Recently, however, my view has begun to shift to a more realistic take on them. My father-in-law has been diagnosed with Dementia, and, although I was resistant to the fact at first, God has been gradually bringing this reality to light.
It's not like this news comes as a shock. As his family, we have all been aware that there have been times when his memory comes and goes. However, having just celebrated his 85th birthday, this just seemed natural. He also is 85% blind due to macular degeneration, so many of the visual cues that normally serve as reminders to aging people are not there for him. Forgetfulness and memory issues seem certainly par for the course!
However, despite his limitations, he continues to live by himself in an in-law suite attached to our house. Over the years many things have gone: his car, his sight, and some of his hearing. Even the stove dials have been removed for safety. And, as things have departed, new additions have made their appearance: walkers, wheelchair, talking books, daily aid visits, etc. One would think that adding one more change to our lives wouldn't be that big of a deal. Well, just try telling that to my heart!
Over the last three weeks, we've witnessed changes in behavior, mood swings, extreme irritability including irrational anger over the phone, obsessions, etc. It sounds crazy, but it almost seems like symptoms of the disease began to arrive on cue as soon as the doctor called to inform me of her Dementia diagnosis!
However, what a blessing to have received that call! In handling some of my father-in-law's outbursts that have occurred over the last week or so, I have found great relief in knowing that there is a reason. My brain was able to convert some of the irrationality and make sense of it in the light of dementia, and patience was so much more easily attained. In fact, I am already finding myself growing in more virtues than just patience.
God is absolutely using this time as a period of refinement, and His loving care for my father-in-law is becoming more evident by the day. Most days appear normal, and, unless one was with him daily, the dementia would hardly be noticeable. As is the way, though, those closest do experience the confusion, frustration and obsessive tendencies that accompany dementia and wish we could take them away. Although I imagine that we are really just in the early stages of this progressive disease, there has already been a bonus: our relationship with both God and Rod's dad is actually improving - what a gift!
During the first two weeks of sudden symptom changes, I struggled immensely with accepting what was to come. The spirit of fear was lurking at the door. However, after talking with Rod, and my own mother who took such impeccable care of my grandmother during her dealings with Alzheimer's, and through spending time in prayer, much of the spirit of fear has disappeared. I am reminded again how much love that God has for us as He prepares us for trials, supplying all of the grace that we will ever need.
Seeing God's new plan being revealed has been, in a way, like watching flower petals slowly open. I can only imagine what spiritual fruits are waiting for all of us at the end!
As this next chapter of life opens, I look forward to seeing all that God is waiting to show me. I pray that I will grow in desiring to serve at all times, meeting all of those in my care at every stage of life. And, may I never give into the spirit of fear and always embrace the refinement He has especially designed for my soul.
How great is our God!
Photo attribution: Unsplash; https://pixabay.com/en/man-guy-walking-backpack-knapsack-690642/
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