For a Christian, discerning the times is important. How do we live in the midst of unbelief or revival? How do we react in a society that has reached the edges of collapse amid the decadence of materialism? Or how do we live during the years of spiritual hunger and intentional seeking after God? The same is true when we consider the lives of our loved ones when they are sick and in need. And part of that discernment is discovering why someone close to us is finding life so difficult. Perhaps why they are reacting in anger, why they do the seemingly strange things they do.
Almost thirty years ago, visiting my father-in-law and his wife, my husband’s step-mother, we laughed about several incidents but then never considered that anything was wrong. My father-in-law, and he could be rather pushy, made a big deal about his wife using instant coffee in the coffee maker. He said this because coffee grounds can look like instant coffee when they have been used, and so not ‘remembering’ that instant coffee would have disappeared if boiling water was poured over it, he lectured my mother-in-law about using the wrong coffee.
Later, on Sunday morning, Amy called me into their bedroom to help her convince her husband Jack, that he was dressed strangely. His plaid shirt did not match his checkered pants. Jack had always been a very sharp dresser and she didn’t understand why he insisted on dressing that way for church. (She outflanked him in pushiness.) I don’t remember who won that battle, but I carefully stayed out of it.
I am sure that Amy, experienced many other dilemmas before they both discovered what was wrong, Alzheimer’s.
Watching a loved one, especially a spouse slowly lose parts of themselves, is devastating, to say the least. It is called the long goodbye.
My husband Brad was at one time the main Steinway piano tuner in Sacramento. He tuned for both individuals and concerts including the University of California at Davis, and the Mondovi Center. It was a wonderful career, an honored career. And I enjoyed the fruits of his labors in many ways including attending many concerts. Our experiences together were so fun: back stage at ‘Governor’ Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration concert which included Jack Benny, back stage at a Johnny Cash concert, backstage at a Garrison Keillor show where we were invited to sit with the performers as they waited for their turns on stage. What a gift.
He made chili for Ursula Oppens at the Bear Valley Music Festival, shared dinner with Russian pianist Olga Kern, at the same festival, and tuned pianos for Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis concerts.
And the friends, so many. Piano teachers, concert pianist, families, churches—God has blessed us both through these many friends.
And then Brad kept forgetting tunings he had for the university on Sunday afternoons. He forgot to pencil them into his appointment book. And that became one of the final problems—over about a three year period—he slowly lost the ability to schedule the Sunday appointments and after he lost the person who made his weekly appointments he couldn’t do that job himself. I heard him on the phone telling old customers how glad he was to hear from them and that he would gladly tune their piano, but he never made the appointment or called them back. I took over the job. At the end he couldn’t drive and one of his son’s drove him on his days off. And then he couldn’t tune—partly his eyes—partly his inability to sequence—and I am sure just loss of memory.
There were earlier clues. They started slowly but finally came fast and furious. An inability to follow rules and sequences in games, our two favorites, cribbage and scrabble. I put them away out of my sight several months ago. An inability to take care of money or business issues. But it happens slowly at first. The questions come. Why didn’t that bill get paid? Why is it that every time he takes checks to the bank he makes a mistake on the deposit slip?
And now the loss of language, and the loss of memory of recent events. (But not all!)
What I am trying to show here is that there are early clues and awareness is a friend although painful. The doctor gives a small test, checks everything else out, and then if needed sends the patient to a neurologist, who gives further tests and does Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.
And all of this is so important, because how else to understand the person you love and their loss and yours. I find myself trying, praying, to put away the demand sound in my voice when I ask why are you doing that? What are you looking for? I already told you we are going …! How now shall we live, Francis Schaeffer asks in his timely book. Indeed, how shall I, or any of us without the love and promises and presence of Jesus Christ in the midst of our sorrow.
Today Brad went for a walk, he does that safely for now, although he does get lost trying to use his bike. He told me, when he returned, how he had met a man in the park who was a Jehovah Witness and who had also spent time “in the big house.” Brad used to do prison ministry. He sat and talked with the man about Jesus. Perhaps in the end God turns us from what seems like great events toward his better events—witnessing to the lost about Jesus.