Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
I hung up the phone in disbelief. A close family friend had called to relate a conversation they over-heard at church regarding my aunt.
“They are saying she has an offensive odor.”
“What? Are you serious?”
“Yes, they don’t want to sit in the pew next to her because it’s so bad.”
“I don’t understand. How bad is bad?”
“I don’t know … but are you sure … that she is bathing?”
“Bathing?!! Of course she is bathing! I can’t imagine her leaving home without bathing! It would have to be something else that is causing the odor!”
And that was that. End of discussion. But in reality, my aunt was not bathing. She was living alone and experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s; her brain was not functioning as it should and unfortunately we just didn’t know it at the time. Worse yet, why were the faithful with whom she worshipped every single Sunday more enthused about gossiping among themselves? Why hadn’t they called to tell us of their ‘concern’ instead of whispering among themselves? Weren’t they supposed to help carry her ‘burden’?
I was more than a little upset to say the least but decided to move on. It wasn’t that I had never heard of Alzheimer’s disease. Quite a few friends had mentioned – in passing – how this disease was affecting their parents, grandparents or some other elderly relative, but it wasn’t until recently that my relationship with the disease became that more intimate.
When our aunt started to lose her memory earlier this year we thought it was just ‘old age’. After all, she was 84 years old, had been a stern headmistress for more than half of her life and was busier after she retired than when she was a full time teacher. Very active in her church and surrounding community, we never even considered Alzheimer’s as a possibility … until it was too late.
The disease consumed her so quickly – it was and still is unbelievable. She frequently forgot where she was going, what she had just eaten for breakfast or what she had really intended to cook before her brain wandered off without her. After she began to walk away from home, we knew we had no choice but to move her into a special facility where she could get the quality care she needed. We hurt, not because she would be better looked after, but because she had always expected to live out her last days in her own house surrounded by family.
Today we cringe inside as we watch her struggle to walk a few steps unassisted or drink slowly from a baby’s sip cup. We sigh as we help her colour between the lines in a book that would be used by a three-year old and try to smile as she calls us by the wrong names. Our hearts break as she weeps bitterly, because we know that somewhere deep inside she knows who she has become is nowhere near who she was before.
She is fading before our eyes, just as this blogger is describing for us in her post She was disappearing right before our eyes about her grandmother, and which helps us rest a little bit easier in the knowledge that it’s not just us walking this long hard journey.
Please pray for us – as well as for the members of her church – and then share these few words from our heart with others because Alzheimer’s is very very real … whether you go to church or not. For part II of this story you can go here: At Church, They Were Saying She Had An ‘Odor’ Part II
Click on the links below to learn more about this disease.
Verses for Reflection
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10 (NKJV)
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)