Like millions of others, my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. Her illness has progressed to the point that it is taking a tremendous toll on my father and placing significant pressure on my siblings, especially my sister.
Because mom is the center of our family, her slow descent into dementia has altered our family’s dynamics in many ways. Most obviously, younger members of the family have had to take on many difficult decision-making responsibilities.
Illness plays a prominent role in the Bible including skin and wasting diseases, fevers, hemorrhages, stomach ailments, mental illness, leprosy, plague, and tumors. Sometimes sufferers, particularly those with leprosy, were quarantined. Yet, there are instances of healing and solace throughout scripture. Psalm 23 reminds me that the Lord will be with my mother throughout the travails she experiences. Even though this beautiful psalm gives me comfort, I know things are not likely to change: it is apparent mom will not be restored to full health.
Alzheimer’s unfolds and deepens over the course of years. In a sense, this has permitted us to say goodbye to mom in slow motion. We’ve all adjusted as her capabilities have diminished. At first, it just seemed like the kind of forgetfulness that often comes with aging. Over time, it became apparent she simply couldn’t remember even what she had just eaten. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you know what I’m talking about.
During the some 50 years dad was a pastor in local churches, mom served as an elementary school secretary and kept the three kids in line and on task. She isn’t a public figure or speaker, but she is shrewd and has been our greatest supporter.
Mom has always been extraordinarily generous. Although she and dad had little money for years and years, they always made sure their children and grandchildren were cared for. They felt the best vacations were family vacations, and the best Christmases were celebrated with everybody present.
I remember once, while in my twenties, I was visiting home and attending church with mom and other family members on Sunday morning. The long pew was filled with Winklers. Mom whispered proudly in my ear, “I bought every stitch of clothing on every person in this pew.”
Disorientation troubles the soul. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult for her to be comfortable in large family gatherings. She does much better one-on-one. For me, who does not see her often, it’s easy to be patient when she asks the same questions over and over. On a daily basis, however, that is more challenging.
The wonderful memories we share of countless occasions and events can no longer be recounted with ease. She cannot summon them. In recent years, I attempted to get her to reflect on her own childhood, but that hasn’t worked well. It is said that those with dementia have good days and bad days. I haven’t seen the good days. Soon, she likely won’t be able to recognize me or my children.
I miss the mom who was strong, vibrant and funny. I love the mom I have. I am grateful she knows the love of God.