The Long Road of Grieving Alzheimer’s
The other night I went to bed thinking about grief, trying to understand why it’s so elusive. Knowing the end is in sight for a loved one, but not knowing how long. Anticipatory grief is what they call it. With a disease like Alzheimer’s, it’s a grinding process – grinding away at your spirit and your knowledge of who that loved one once was, before illness robbed them of their mind and personality.
Last week we moved my mom to a new room at her memory care facility, at the advice of one of the care managers. “I’m sorry to say, but I really think she’s crossing over into the last stage of the disease.” Hard words to hear, followed by even more difficult words. “You and your family might want to start looking into hospice for her, for comfort care.” And there it was. The finality of the situation summed up in a few words. My ears heard, my mind understood, even rationalized that this is the inevitable outcome of such a debilitating disease. But my heart…my heart felt like a dishtowel being wringed out, the last bits of hope falling to the floor in drops.
Grieving after a loss is normal. But this loss has been an ongoing process over many years. Twelve years filled with little losses popping up out of the blue, hitting hard. And now this. Is anyone ever really ready to hear words of such finality? Maybe it’s selfish. I’m just not ready to let her go and so I’m struggling to get a handle on this thing called grief.
The little grief’s began years ago, when she was first diagnosed. We were forced to face the reality that life would slowly be stripped away from her. Then, grief again from the realization that she was once able to help care for her grandson, a boy she loves deeply, but now no longer recognizes. Sadness from knowing she’s never really gotten to know her grand-daughter. Knowing that the woman who was the primary influence in my life and faith, long ago lost her ability to speak into my life. Yet I still find myself wishing I could seek her out, to get hold of who she is and hear her words of wisdom and affirmation. Watching a vibrant, independent, fun-loving woman turn childlike before my eyes. Seeing her give up things she once loved, like gardening. The scent of peonies on a warm breeze, a reminder of well-cared for blooms in a garden. Her garden. A garden she can no longer tend.
Four years ago, it became important to me to see their blooms again, nearby. As though some piece of my mother was still the same, captured in the beauty and fragrance of those flowers. My husband obliged and we transplanted root pieces of my mother’s peonies to a sunny spot next to our house. The following spring, I couldn’t wait to see them. Lush leaves came first and I waited patiently for buds. I waited and waited. No buds appeared. Maybe the shock of transplanting was to blame and it would just take another year before buds arrived. We waited for the next spring, only to be disappointed again. I began to think they simply wouldn’t bloom outside of her garden. “You probably planted them too deep,” said the garden expert. “Bring them up higher to the surface.” We did. We moved them and waited. Still no blooms, just leaves.
I nearly gave up hope on those peonies. Then, days after speaking with my mother’s care manager, I began my ritual march to their verdant bushes, filled with anticipation. Pulling the leaves back, I saw it. One little bud peeking out at me. In disbelief, I carefully brushed more leaves aside. There they were – a multitude of little buds, ready to burst into an explosion of multi-petalled beauty. To say I was excited is an understatement. I was ecstatic.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” Matthew 5:3-5 NLT
God’s timing is so perfect, isn’t it? His comfort is balm to a wounded heart. When my heart needed assurance of His hope, He gave it. When I’d nearly given up on seeing those blooms, after four long years, He gave me peonies, just when I needed them most. A reminder of who my mother was and still is in His eyes. Thank you for that, Lord.