Here’s a look inside my journal, written during the holiday season of 1998. In my book A Path Revealed I share a few journal entries, but not these.
I began my journal in September 1997, when my wife Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But for almost two months, starting December 2nd, I posted no entries. I don’t remember why, but I have a pretty good idea.
A year later I was not at such a loss of words. What follows are several entries from Thanksgiving 1998 through New Year’s, edited for brevity and clarity…
Dearest Rachel, Kathryn & David,
This day, this year, is especially meaningful to Mommie and me. You’ve shared fully in our fears and grief. We want you to share in our joy, too. Enclosed are some thoughts spinning out of our 12-month checkup with the doctor. Your love, warmth, and prayers have been an incredible healing force in our fight with Mommie’s Alzheimer’s. Happy Thanksgiving!
Love, Mommie and Daddy
(Martha was able to sign for herself.)
November 24, 1998
(This is the enclosure I sent with the children’s note above.)
We just finished Martha’s 12-month review with her neurologist. Real good news. The doctor says he detects no change in Martha from a year ago, maybe even a slight improvement. Short of marked or full recovery, stabilization was our goal the past year. Persons Martha’s age (51 at the time of this note) generally decline precipitously, according to the doctor. Martha has not. God is good.
What’s the cause of this stabilization?
- Exercise, especially swimming?
- Prayers of Fr. Matthew and Sr. Elaine? (We visited both in Kentucky the year before.)
- Lacy’s prayers? (Rev. Lacy Harwell, our friend and mentor, is the first person we talked with after the diagnosis; he encouraged us to visit Sr. Elaine.)
- Prayers of our friends?
- Our meditation and prayers for Martha’s healing?
- Martha’s continued connections with her friends and activities, such as swimming, tennis, and the church choir?
- My increased involvement in Martha’s life?
- The vitamin supplements heavy on antioxidants?
- Martha’s positive outlook and faith? Mine?
- The children’s rallying support?
- The doctor and his staff’s warmth and forthrightness?
Maybe some or all of these have contributed to her stabilization. Then maybe there’s something we haven’t even identified. I happen to believe all are contributing factors. Seeking God’s heart can permit a healing atmosphere to develop, within which these activities may have influence. And within which the healing qualities of Martha’s mind and body can emerge.
Thank you, dear God, that your light is protecting and healing Martha. Amen.
I also sent the above notes to Father Matthew Kelty of the Abbey of Gethsemani. This is his response: “Dear Friends… Thank you for good news. Nothing heals like trust in a merciful God. Then all will be well. God bless you both.”
Good sign. I’m seeing a pattern of initiative by Martha not seen this past year. Working on art at home. Pushing me to visit Santa Fe (where we’d lived for three years, pre-kids). Wants to get with the Episcopal priest who led the healing service we attended Sunday at St. Peter’s Cathedral. Martha really connected with her. My plan—to follow up on these desires as best I can, to let God speak through Martha’s spirit.
The doctor’s assistant was impressed with Martha’s responses to a variety of tests. She says patients usually get worse, not better, relative to these tests.
On the 7th and 8th, I felt this deep confidence that Martha is improving. I haven’t been able to generate such confidence through will power or mental gymnastics. I believe it stems from God, working through Martha’s initiatives and the healing service we attended. Side note: She’s been taking heavy-duty vitamin supplements for 90-120 days, as have I. Can’t hurt.
The last few days I’ve felt my emotions and thoughts were log-jammed. Nothing has been able to break them open. I read in Agnes Sanford’s book The Healing Light (a classic in the field) that while God’s energy flows into me, it also must flow out. I need to thank God for his life-giving Spirit rather than always focusing on our problems. In order to grow, I must be willing to give. Easier said than done.
We received a Christmas card from Lacy Harwell: “I appreciate your updates. Have you considered keeping a journal of this pilgrimage? It could be of great value to others. As I ponder your notes to me I feel like a student in a post-grad seminar on love and care. Whatever else you are doing, you are instructing me. We hope the gathering of your loves, in this our festival of hope and joy, allows you to hear the Angel’s Song again and echo it with a clear true pitch. Lacy and Margaret.”
Christmas Day 1998
Praying again for Martha’s healing. I’ve had trouble visualizing God’s light shining from Martha’s mind and body, as Agnes Sanford suggests. Today, however, I connected with an image of oil pouring gently over her head, seeping into the crevices of her brain, healing the fissures and scarred tissue.
Then, through no prompting by me, a white dove appeared in my mind’s eye, resting on Martha’s head. It didn’t move. It flew away. Then it returned, resting again. Suddenly from nowhere, a monster arose from Martha’s head, a dragon of sorts, being lifted upward by the dove. This dragon disappeared into the sky with the dove clutching its head. The image evaporated.
What do I make of this? Is this only my wish and desire? Is this a sign from God? My cocked eye of skepticism tells me not to put much stock in such imaginings. Yet as I recount this on paper, my heart and eyes swell with tears of joy and gratitude. Those tears bear this message: “Trust God.” So I’ll do as Mary did with the birth of her son Jesus—I’ll store this sign and wonder in my heart, and watch for God’s movement.
(This image of the dove is one of the first I experienced in such a deep, clear way. I was so surprised by it at the time that I was reluctant to share it with anyone.)
December 27-January 2, 1999
We visited David in Jackson Hole, where he’s ski-bumming for the winter. I was holding my breath to see if Martha could still ski. She picked up where she left off four years ago. She stayed on the beginner’s slopes; getting on and off the lift was a bit worrisome. All in all, though, the time there was a real confidence booster, for her and for me.
I’ll close with a link shared this week by an online friend, Carolyn Bradley Bursack of Minding Our Elders. The link is to the “World’s Largest Virtual #Hallelujah Chorus” >> 300 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir combined with 2,000 voices worldwide. (It may be the best four minutes you spend this holiday.)
May this season of Hanukkah and Christmas be a time of wonder and joy for you and for your family.
P.S. The Tampa Bay Times ran a story last week on our family’s odyssey and my book. The Times has the largest circulation of any paper in the South. You can read the story by clicking here.
P.P.S. If you’re interested, you can buy A Path Revealed several ways: 1) At your local bookstore or at a Barnes & Noble, which can order it if it’s not on the shelf. 2) On Amazon. 3) Via my publisher Paraclete Press, which offers discounts for multiple copies. Contact Sr. Estelle Cole by phone: 774-801-2030 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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