Many of you know firsthand that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s will test you in ways you never imagined. And your self-image and confidence will be challenged… sorry, wrong word. Your self-image and confidence will at times be shredded, stripped of all illusions and all that you thought was good about yourself.
Many caregiver guide books—for Alzheimer’s and other major crises—are available today with good practical advice. But unless those guides deal with the deep, and frequently dark, spiritual issues that are sure to surface, such advice will leave caregivers and loved ones hobbling on one leg.
A personal example: In 1999, sixteen months after my wife Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, our Sunday school class was reading Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? This is my journal entry dated February 11: “I laughed and cried when Philip Yancey described himself as a ‘recovering legalist.’ I immediately knew what he was talking about.”
This entry nailed my struggle in trying to care for Martha. I was swinging between wanting to control an uncontrollable situation and needing a break from it all.
For those not into religious lingo, let me explain Yancey’s description this way: As I read him, it became clear there is not a whit’s difference between a self-righteous “legalist” and an alcoholic. Both are addicted; both try to control their relationships and surroundings; both can be passive-aggressive; and both often are driven by fear, anxiety, anger, and depression.
Hopefully, you are among the fortunate ones not to get entrapped by certain harsh rules of right and wrong as you grew up, those rules—religious or otherwise—that often can shape our character and behavior negatively over a lifetime. I wasn’t that fortunate.
Yancey gave me a name for the pain I’d felt in many spheres of my life—self-righteous legalist. And I wanted out! I not only wanted out of this pain, I also wanted out of the situation Martha and I were trapped in, which too often accentuated my uglier traits.
Last week I discussed what I call the Caregiver’s First Commandment: “If you’re going to care for a loved one, then you also must learn to take care of yourself.”
Swimming against this current called Alzheimer’s, I tried to do just that—to take care of myself while caring for Martha.
As I did it came ever more clear to me: I was in as much need of healing in my own way as Martha was in hers. But I wasn’t sure how or where to find it.
One practice Martha and I did start was meditation, which I’ve discussed already.
A journal entry, November 21, 1998… “Martha and I have meditated fairly consistently, twice a day, 20-30 minutes a time for almost a year. Two days ago I experienced a lightness of spirit never felt before, twice in fact. But since then the struggles with my “demons” have intensified. Father Matthew Kelty is right, I think, on two fronts: 1) Meditation will make you face reality; and 2) Where God is, evil lurks ready to pounce. The message I’m getting is this: As God draws me closer, my old habits are rebelling.”
Another practice I began to explore was spiritual healing. This was a huge change for me; my bias was strongly against so-called “faith healing.” I’d seen too many hucksters pass thru my small Tennessee hometown and on TV. But I learned early that a true spiritual path can force you out of your comfort zones. The first book I picked up on the subject was at the downtown Episcopal book store; it was called Healing by Francis MacNutt, a former Catholic priest. His approach was much more reasonable than I had anticipated.
Nov. 27, 1997… “In another book, The Prayer that Heals, MacNutt says that the person who has a harder time receiving healing is ‘controlled … who has to think everything through before acting; a person who is filled with explanations and wants you to give them, too; a person who has furrows in the brow and a critical spirit. Often, such persons are religious and try to live exemplary lives, but letting go and receiving love—even from God—is hard for them.’”
“This, regrettably, describes me,” I wrote in closing that journal entry.
January 12-14, 1999… “Martha and I went to Francis MacNutt’s 3-day conference in Jacksonville, FL. One concept discussed there was to pay attention to the images that come to mind. Do not force your imagination to conjure up images. Yet don’t ignore the images that may arise. Pray over those images until God takes you to their source, then let God heal or rejoice with you over that memory, be it good or bad. God’s love is a river of life. Let it flow over the boulders of your heart and mind until they are washed away.”
Tapping into my imagination as another avenue for healing piqued my curiosity. I’ll share a couple of personal examples in a later post.
P.S. Great News! I just received my manuscript from Paraclete’s editor, Phil Fox Rose. Now the work begins. For those of you just joining us, this is my book’s working title and subtitle: A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s. It’s scheduled to come out next fall. While I work through Phil’s comments and edits, I’ll send you a couple of different kinds of posts. Plus, I may have to skip a Friday or two, depending on any manuscript complications. Stay tuned.
P.P.S. If you'd like to receive my free weekly posts, you can by clicking here.