Singing the lyrics of “He's Alive" to my Mother while she sits and listens to me attempt to harmonize with the Gaither Vocal Band would make any other musically educated person cringe. I barely know the words, mostly just the rhythm, but as I recite the parts I do know I can feel in my heart a bond that my mother and I share that none can break - a relationship with the Lord.
Alzheimer’s Disease crept into my Mom and Dad’s life just as soon as Lyme Disease made enough room for an additional pest. This evil companion has managed to take almost all of my mother’s ability to speak, her ability to walk, and her ability to return the appropriate response to the phrase, “I Love You,” but it hasn’t taken a faith that she and my father raised me around.
I don’t write this article in an attempt to lead anyone down a certain religious path, but more to share how special this commonality between us is. You see, today while visiting with my mother, I ran out of things to tell her. Talking to someone who has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease is much like talking with a teenager who has sworn to remain silent towards an angry ex. You talk, she sits. You talk some more, she sits. I tell a joke or a funny story and no expression is made - to be honest, I don’t even know that she knows I’m here so to fill the awkward silence I tell her more about the weather or some other low hanging fruit conversation starter.
In fact, every visit has a chance to feel just like the first date with someone you’re not really qualified to be with. On the way there you think of things to share while there you grasp at opportunities to make your time together feel exceptional, and when you leave you think about the things you could have said differently. There is an inner tension to make each moment ironically, memorable.
When I empty the basket of conversation starters I have a go-to, hymns. I play songs to my mother about what Heaven will be like. I sing songs to my Mother about “the lame man walking” and “the blind man seeing again.” I tell her about stones being moved only find no one is in the tomb and I tell her how much her Heavenly Father loves her.
When I quietly sing to her it’s hymns of grace, mercy and warmth. It’s songs that sometimes consist of just one word, “Amen” or “Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” To be sure I’m no preacher, and she would gladly tell you stories about some of the crazy things I’ve done to testify to that fact but, thanks to the stories my parents told me or, more accurately the faith they quietly lived, my mother and I have a bond that Alzheimer’s can never take away.
When my mother has bad days hymns gives us something to lean on. When my mother has good days hymns gives us something to share. There’s no altar calls, communions, or expected healings just a peace knowing that one day she will sing again, dance again, and most importantly laugh at my jokes again. Our relationship with a Heavenly Father overshadows any rainy days, heavy grief and her screaming silence. When that day comes where we can no longer stand tall with the weight of Alzheimer’s on our backs, our faith will supply the support beams that our sagging spirits seek.
When I was a young man my mother would remind me to say my prayers every night. Other than that, I cannot really recall any deep “spiritual conversations” with her. She never felt the need to hit me with a Bible or threaten me with the fires of Hell. What I do remember is her telling me that when she was a kid she wanted to be a “Good Mom” when she grew up.
This afternoon before I left my Mother’s side in the Alzheimer’s unit I gave her a hug and a kiss. I told her I loved her and that she has been a good Mom. I was getting up to leave and then gave her one more hug and in her ear, I said, “I love you.” With a breath and a smile, she said back, “That feels so good.” Isn’t it amazing what one’s love for another can do? While my Mother hasn’t offered an appropriate response to “I love you” in over 6 months - my Heavenly Father has. He’s given me strength when she’s weak, He’s given me humor when we need to laugh, and today He gave us songs to sing about a home where my Mother will one day wait for her family to arrive.
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31