We visited Edna, my wife’s 93 year old mother who lives behind locked doors in a nearby aged-care facility.Dementia is defined as a chronic or persistent mental disorder marked by memory failure, personality change and impaired reasoning: from Latin meaning ‘out of one’s mind’.
She has now been a resident for over four years and her mental deterioration is noticeable.Helen, my 96 year old mother retains her mental faculties although she too is starting to fade, more so physically.
She lives distantly but I sense over the phone her advancing frailty. My sisters regularly visit and confirm this.Mum is surrounded by demented people and has said she sometimes wishes she too had dementia for then she would not realise how bored she is with no-one sensible to talk to.
It seems that…
People suffering advanced dementia do not get bored. They lack self-awareness.Both old ladies went into full-time care because they had lost the capacity for independent living.Although Mum is mentally alert the body was crumbling, with the added issues of boredom and loneliness.
Her brief chats with the pleasant female physiotherapist who attended her home were not enough. Jennifer was a professional woman in private practice who could not afford the time to idly chat with my mother.By contrast, when the difficult decision was made by my ‘only-child' wife that her mother had to go into full-time care, whilst mother lacked full mental capacity she was physically healthy for her age.
But visiting Edna now involves visitors talking among themselves as no meaningful conversation with her is possible. She does not recognise daughter, son-in-law, granddaughters or great granddaughters.She is more absorbed by the small dog(s) one of us brings or she engages in ‘deep’ and meaningless conversation in another world with one of her small collection of teddy bears.
Whilst she does not respond to her name nor knows ours she nevertheless remains bright, friendly and outwardly happy. Her failure to recognise is a relatively recent change and as we dawdle to the dining room or private meeting place, like a little girl she willingly holds my wife’s hand.Such is the sad progressive state of being ‘out of one’s mind’.
The lights are on but nobody’s home
How tragic that the ravages of later life can reduce a person to being unaware of their surroundings and of themselves not knowing who they are, who their family is and where they fit into the world.
We were able to quietly make an observation about Edna whilst sitting with her, she being in another universe completely unaware of our conversation.But our loving heavenly Father is not like that.
He says about His followers: Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrews chapter 13 verse 5). Similarly and comfortingly, the risen Jesus says about His own: I am ‘with you’ always, to the end of the age. (Matthew chapter 28 verse 20).That is so whether or not we deteriorate like our mothers.
The winter of life
When mental awareness has departed, that loved one is only physically present.
Although they still look the same, the ability to recognise and sensibly communicate has gone. It’s painful to helplessly watch this slowly unfold, the spark of individuality having been extinguished.
Can God still talk to Edna?
Absolutely. He made her and can communicate with her. Will He do so? We don’t know, but in prayer we can ask Him to whether or not we receive His confirmation. Similarly, He can ‘talk to the animals’ as the song goes. God “ordered” ravens to feed Elijah whilst he hid in a cave from the evil king. God “sent His angel[who] shut the mouths” of hungry lions during the night Daniel was thrown into their pit.
He can talk to someone through the mental fog of dementia or alzheimers. He can talk to a tiny baby who is unable to respond to our words. And He can talk to someone who is mentally affected (perhaps since birth) who is unable to answer.The best we can do is to ask Him to anyway and be comforted in the knowledge that: the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James chapter 5 verse 16).
God always answers the prayers of those who have turned to Him in love (not always immediately) or are seeking Him, but we should never try to use Him and then forget Him.It is a grave error to view God as our heavenly Santa Claus who forever waits at our ‘beck and call’ to give us the dose of divine intervention we may seek.
Rather He desires to enter into, and wants nothing less than, a respectful lifelong (stretching to eternal) loving Fatherly relationship with us, its bedrock foundation being our humble turning to Jesus.
Is it too late for Edna?
Presumably not. Whilst-so-ever there is life there’s hope and without implying anything: Anyone who is among the living has hope [for] even a live dog is better off than a dead lion. (Ecclesiastes chapter 9 verse 4).But has Edna ignored Him for so long that she now appears to have lost the ability to rationally respond in any meaningful way?
So what about us?
This should never happen: ‘I just didn’t get around to Him, I didn’t have time’, because being the God of time He brought the reality of it to earth. Whilst He operates within our time and space He is not bound by time as we are and so has all the time in the world.
But we don’t.
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html