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Dementia and delight

Readers share stories showing how a dreadful disease doesn’t extinguish the grace of God

Dementia and delight

(Jens Kalaene/dpa/AP)

Delight isn’t a word most people associate with dementia. 

But over the last few weeks, I’ve heard from many readers responding to a story I wrote about dementia, caregivers, and churches. And I’ve been moved by the current of delight that runs through the suffering in many of those messages.

Some caregivers delight when a loved one still remembers a handful of the people closest to him. Some delight when mom remembers the chorus of a familiar hymn or dad reflexively utters the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

Others delight in the memories they have of the ones who are now forgetting everything. A wife watching her husband’s painful decline delights to remember how well he loved her and her children during his years of health and strength. 

Some delight at brief glimpses into the inner workings of a loved one’s heart and soul. Mart Martin, a reader from Georgia, wrote to share a story about his 90-year-old father, who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years.

I can’t tell the story better than Mart tells it, so with his permission, here’s the note he sent a few weeks ago:

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about seven years ago. We are blessed that the resources exist for him to be cared for 24/7 in a wonderful memory care facility in my hometown, Hattiesburg, Miss. My brother and sister live there and see him almost daily. I am a longtime Atlanta resident now but try to make it down every few months.

He has always kept a small daytime calendar—a little diary. He would jot down just a few things that he did that day: “Played golf” … “Went to Lion’s Club” … “Church then nap.” Though those entries stopped several years ago, he still keeps it by his recliner and looks at it often. Now my sister, Molly, makes notes in it—“Mart is coming today” or “Today is Brad’s birthday.” 

On May 1, the family gave him a surprise party for his 90th birthday. While he no longer remembers most family members’ names or their relation to him—beyond my brother, sister, and me, which remains a blessing—he had a wonderful time. My sister visited him the next day, and when she looked at his calendar, this is what she saw:

It confirmed for us the notion that a person with Alzheimer’s may not remember your visit, but they remember the feeling of being loved. And in Daddy’s case, enough to make him want to write in his diary again.

When I asked Mart if I could share this story, he was happy to oblige: “His name is Bill and he’s the nicest man I have ever known; we are very blessed that the disease has not taken that from him yet—and praying that it won’t.”

Some readers shared darker stories of things dementia has taken from their loved ones, but they also shared confidence that the disease can’t take the presence of the Holy Spirit from those who are in Christ. 

That’s a delightful truth during what can be a dreadful time for many. It’s reminded me of the Apostle Paul telling the Christians in Rome that “the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses” and “himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Even when afflicted believers can’t consciously delight in God anymore, the Lord delights in them. Nothing can separate them from His love. And it’s delightful to know that we just don’t know how He moves in their souls.


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    Posted: Tue, 07/30/2019 05:47 pm

    Thank you for printing Mart's note: The statement that "a person with [dementia] may not remember your visit, but they remember the feeling of being loved" is such a blessing. For three years after Mom died, my stepfather with dementia may have confused me with her, and I was troubled by that. About a year ago, it was so painful when I visited him in a memory care unit. He tried to talk, but his gaping mouth and fluttering tongue couldn't do it. Yet there was a light in his eyes, and when I hugged him goodbye, he squeezed me tight. He died a month later. I'm convinced now (with tears of gratitude despite the pain) that no matter who he thought was hugging him, he felt loved. Now, he is in his right mind, loved and loving Mom in the presence of Jesus.

  • BjW
    Posted: Wed, 07/31/2019 09:42 am

    My mother in law was diagnosed with Alzheiner's 12 years ago. Sometimes we know she remembers her dear children. But we always know she feels their love, they way she holds their hand. The recognition in her eyes. She can rarely form the words, but her soul responds to the love she receives. Please EVERYONE keep on loving our dear ones with dementia.

  • Bob Hinkley
    Posted: Wed, 10/16/2019 12:52 pm

    Towards the end of "the long goodbye" my mother was declining rapidly. But I was blessed one more time before she left... She was staring into space. I said,  "Mom, mom, look at me... Do you remember Jesus?" For one brief second, a second that I will never forget, her countenance changed and her eyes became bright. And then she was looking off into space again. I suspect that she already had one foot in heaven at the time.

  • Joe M
    Posted: Mon, 02/10/2020 02:02 pm

    "A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember your visit, but they remember the feeling of being loved."

    "Even when afflicted believers can’t consciously delight in God anymore, the Lord delights in them."

    Having watched my father succumb to Alzheimer's Disease over seven+ years,  those lines rang true and brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for a wonderful piece.