CAN CAREGIVING AND RECEIVING really be a mutual path? It is obvious that the caregiver can grow in relationship with God, but can the receiver, especially a person suffering from dementia, really grow spiritually? Richard and I believe so, especially in the early stages of the disease. Later, the caregiver becomes the presence of God and the provider of God’s love to the person.
My friend Judy’s Aunt Diana is a good example of spiritual growth in a person with early dementia. A childless widow, Aunt Diana had always dearly loved her sister’s child, Judy, who was as emotionally close as any daughter could ever be. Even though Judy’s home was ten hours away from Diana, who lived in a retirement community, they talked daily. … For eight years Judy had driven monthly to visit Aunt Diana and always stayed for the weekend. Aunt Diana looked forward to and enjoyed the visits and help, but she never seemed to realize just how much Judy, a busy executive, wife, civic leader, and grandmother, ws sacrificing of her own life. …
As her health declined, Aunt Diana grew increasingly dependent on Judy. Judy’s visits became more frequent, due to health emergencies that required Diana’s hospitalization. Each time Judy visited, Diana, who had been a lifelong, faithful, and active church member, would cry and wail, “I’m ninety-seven years old and good for nothing. Why doesn’t God just take me home?” Finally Diana’s physical and mental status declined so much that she needed to be relocated from assisted care to the nursing section of the facility. Judy needed help during the move, so I volunteere,d and we visited Aunt Diana the day of her transition to the nursing facility. …
When we arrived, Aunt Diana was fretting about a drop-leaf table that had belonged to her great-grandmother. She wanted Judy to take it, but Judy didn’t like the table, and she didn’t have room for it in her home. … Because Judy would not give in to her wishes, Diana pouted and became increasingly irritated with both of us. … We both dreaded the following morning.
When we arrived at ten o’clock the next day, we found Diana still in bed, in nightclothes, with her hair a mess. … She was obviously in distress, and we thought it was due to the enormous change she had just experienced. When Judy asked her aunt what was wrong, Diana replied, “I’ve been talking and struggling with God all night long. I was so upset that you wouldn’t take the table that I finally asked God what to do. I didn’t like the answer he gave me, so we went back and forth all night about it. Early this morning I realized I was being selfish and unreasonable about the table. I knew you never liked it [Judy], but I wanted you to have it because it was your great-grandmother’s. Shelly is kin on the other side of the family, but she’ll take god care of it and enjoy it more than you. I’m just an old fool, and I don’t know why God doesn’t take me!” .
Judy was speechless in amazement at the transformation in her aunt’s attitude, but I jumped in to respond to her last sentence. “Aunt Diana, don’t you realize why you are still here? Look what has happened to you in just twenty-four hours! You’ve changed from a demanding woman into a generous one, willing to sacrifice your own will. You went to God and asked for help. God gave it to you. You didn’t like it very much, but you obeyed God. What an amazing amount of spiritual growth you have experienced in such a short time.”
-Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan
No Act of Love Is Ever Wasted
From pages 69-72 of No Act of Love Is Ever Wasted: The Spirituality of Caring for Persons with Dementia by Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan. Copyright © 2009 by Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.
When have you visited someone with dementia? Have you ever thought it was a waste of time because the person might not remember your visit? Pray for those with dementia and for their caregivers, whether they are family members or employed. If you know someone with dementia, see if you can arrange to visit him or her. Share your thoughts.
I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.
Psalm 89:20-21, NRSV
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This week we remember Thomas à Kempis (July 24).
(Courtesy of Vanderbilt Divinity Library)
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