Beauty for Ashes
March 13, 2017 at 4:23 p.m.
Updated March 13, 2017 at 4:23 p.m.
As my husband’s Alzheimer’s progresses, I find it harder to write about since it is so personal. However, I believe it is a ministry to which God has called me, so I will continue to write. It is always my prayer that these writings will encourage those who are dealing with Alzheimer’s and other difficult circumstances. My objective is to testify to God’s grace and provision in all things, and to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and people affected by it. My hope is that one day soon I can stop writing about it because a cure has been found.
These days, Byron seems less aware of his losses and is usually fairly content. The “blessing” of progressive memory loss is you are not aware of the sadness most of the time. But I am – it is a part of me and every caregiver who is watching or has watched their loved one slowly fade away. That is the way Alzheimer’s takes its victims.
Sometimes, however, Byron will have a moment of clarity into his current reality and it is heartbreaking. He has always been a talented artist and still enjoys drawing.
Recently he drew a picture that consisted of two simple figures. One was smiling and arrayed in vibrant colors; the other was smaller and without color. I asked him to tell me about the picture. He pointed to the bright figure and said, “This one is happy, like a child.”
“What about the other one?” I asked. He looked at it a minute and frowned slightly. “I think that one is just fading away.” He was quiet, and I knew then that he was aware of what was happening to him.
Sometimes we'll be sitting at the table and I’ll notice his eyes welling up. “Are you sad?” I’ll ask with a lump in my throat, while silently praying that God will give me the right words to say. “What’s wrong with me?” he will ask anxiously. I’ll gently remind him that he has Alzheimer’s disease, and that it is not his fault. I’ll assure him when God calls him home he will not have the disease anymore. Sometimes we’ll pray or I will read encouraging Bible verses and devotional selections to him. And we’ll cry.
Occasionally, Byron will express that he doesn’t know what his purpose is – that he feels useless, that he has ceased to matter. He will ask, “What am I supposed to be doing? I know I’m supposed to be doing something, but I just don’t know what.” He will tell me, in so many words, what he has told me since he was first diagnosed. “I want to make a difference. I want to help people. I want to be a kind person. I want to be someone who cares.” I’ll hold his hand and tell him he is all those things and more, and that he does indeed make a difference. I’ll tell him that through his faith and courage, God is encouraging and touching many people. And we’ll cry.
But the question he raised recently was the most heartbreaking yet. “Where are all my people? I used to have more people. I haven’t seen them in a long time.” I assured him that his family and friends love and care for him and that they do come and see him. I reminded him that I am here and will take care of him. We held each other and cried together until there were no more tears. What else can you do?
Maybe the best thing, the only thing to do is just to lay it down and let go, allow ourselves to be held and rest in Christ. To be still and listen, to allow him to take us deeper, to have faith. For what is faith but trusting even when we don’t understand? As we let go and trust, we will begin to sense his presence and his arms holding and comforting us. Under the shadow of his wings, we experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. When we give him praise and thanks, our eyes open to the myriad miracles, both great and small, surrounding us. We rise up and discover he has bestowed on us a crown of beauty for ashes.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness,
they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted
for his own glory.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phillipians 4:7).
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised (Psalm 113:3).
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
Hillsong United (“Oceans – Where Feet May Fail”)