When the Worst Happens// Mum and Alzheimer’s

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During my break at work, I called my mum to let her know that my wife and I was keen for her to join us on holiday to Spain. Wanting to be sure her passport hadn’t expired, I asked her about it. Mum was totally up for it. It would be her first holiday with our family. There was another agenda – we wanted to spend time encouraging mum to consider what she could do with her life having just retired.

No more than 10 minutes after our conversation, mum called back, and her opening line gave me goosebumps. She had forgotten our earlier call entirely. I was in shock. My sister had been complaining that mum was becoming forgetful. I had barely noticed, until now. A few months later, my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

A Slow and Painful Loss

John, commonly known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, records the words of Jesus Christ, “In this world, you will have trouble!.” (John 16:33)

There’s no avoiding it; life brings with it a cauldron of – trauma, pain, and loss. Over the last five years, I have struggled to come to terms with my mum’s Alzheimer’s. The pain is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Mum has regressed from being “forgetful” to having her very identity obliterated before my eyes. She has been stolen from me and, to make matters worse, there’s someone else in her place, someone who looks exactly like her, teasing me with the possibility of her return. And every time I see a glimmer of hope, it’s instantly whisked away.

I love my mum deeply; she has raised my sister and me on her own. After a somewhat challenging life, my sister and I were desperate for her to enjoy her retirement.

Disheartening resentment, fierce anger, unexplainable joy, and acute denial have become the range of emotions that have taken residence in my heart. I’ve become familiar with the dichotomy of emotions. I used to resist the feelings. Now, I accept it and let it be.

Tough Burden and Tough Questions

Part of the fallout of life’s “troubles” is that they force you to ask questions. Where is God in all of this? Why does He allow so much unspeakable pain in the world? If He is kind and loving and powerful, why doesn’t He take away our despair? How do you find the strength to move past your pain?

It has been said that “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I take that to mean; pain is synonymous with our humanity. However, what we believe about our future will determine how we experience and process this pain and therefore the degree to which we suffer internally from unanswered questions.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

I think that is what Jesus was getting at when He said “But take heart! I have overcome the world”, more than two millennia ago. He guarantees we will experience pain in life. Until the new heaven and new earth appear, pain comes with living in a fallen world. And yet, despite the often-unbearable pain, He reminds us that there is an even greater reality of peace and hope that we can experience.

Unexplainable Peace

When we put our trust in Him, we experience a sense of peace amidst our pain. It’s a peace that knows that while our physical bodies are wasting away, Jesus accomplished something miraculous for us. Our souls can and will outlive this finite world because of what Jesus has achieved. One day, our earthly tent will be traded in for new bodies (2 Cor 4:16-18, 5:1-7) and death no longer has to be the end of relationships – one of the greatest things that makes life meaningful.

Don’t misunderstand me. That peace doesn’t mean there are no tears. As I get older, I’ve come to learn that my tears matter to God. It’s ok to feel the pain, but I don’t have to be controlled by it. I don’t have to let it keep me in a state of despair or resentment. Instead, I allow it to drive me nearer to God and experience a level of intimacy with Him that would otherwise remain unknown to me. (James 4:8-10). The loss I feel has also allowed my friends to comfort me in a way that I wouldn’t need if I were self-sufficient.

I don’t know why God doesn’t take away all of our pain right now. But I do know this – nothing can separate us from His love demonstrated through His Son Jesus. Not pain, nor loss, nor trauma, nor Alzheimer’s, nor troubles of any kind.

An Unusual Source of Hope

This may come as a surprise but some of the greatest words of encouragement during this time has come from my mum of all people.

I took her out for lunch earlier in the year. As we tucked into our meal, and I fought off the tears, I told her I was grateful for the mum she had been to me (I wanted to say it while she could still take it in, to some degree). I also asked her about what helped her to stay joyful during this challenging period of her life. I wasn’t sure how much of the question would resonate with her, but mum replied, “God said ‘I never promised it would be easy, but I did promise that I’d be with you every step of the way.'”

Written by Obi Abuchi

Obi is married to Peju and they have 3 boys – Lemar, Zikora and Kobi. He is the CEO of CORE Leaders International, a personal leadership solutions business, and author of the book ‘The Magic of Monday’. He is currently working on his second book ‘How’s Your CORE?’.

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