Grief wears many faces. The person standing in the unemployment line. A family that lost a home and pets in a fire. The mother who lost a child. The father who receives the news that his child has a serious birth defect. The woman who has to have her leg amputated. The husband who has to bury his bride. The young surgeon who receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer. The grandparents who know their granddaughter died at the hands of a drunk driver. The person who receives news of a life-changing chronic illness. The family who loses a beloved pet. Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is yet another face of grief.
AD takes away a loved one little by little. A once active, well-spoken woman who raised 6 children, ran a home, mentored young women, loved her husband, sewed clothes, sang at weddings begins to change. At 82 she watches the home she designed and her husband built for her burn to the ground. Her family notices that she is defensive, angry, having difficulty understanding some important factors of her husband's diabetes. Is it the beginning of Alzheimer's or the trauma of losing her home and having to start again in her early 80s? She and her husband move into their new home and she seems to become more like herself, yet there are still small changes.
Then her husband dies. After 65 years of marriage, a huge loss. A loss that would send anyone reeling. She adapts to living alone, but slowly changes become more apparent. She is unable to fill her own pill case, then she is unable to remember to take her pills. Her meals become more and more simple until she is having trouble even operating the microwave. She begins to have trouble remembering people. Eventually she is unsure of who people are and how they are related to her.
Slowly, over the months and years her family loses her, while she is still with them. Sometimes she remembers them and other times not. Her speech becomes garbled and communication becomes difficult as she struggles to find the words to express her thoughts. Social ques are missed and behaviors are often inappropriate.
Her body is still there, becoming more and more frail. She, a once vibrant, active, hard-working, talented woman becomes trapped inside a frail body and a confused mind. Still there are vestiges of the woman that once was - a clinging to her faith as she recites John 3:16 like she is holding fast to a lifesaver in a treacherous sea; her love for music as she plays the piano at 2 a.m. or watches Lawrence Welk over and over; her dislike of clutter and desire for order. Somewhere under the disease, inside the frail body, occasionally peeking out of the traitorous brain is the essence of the woman that once was.
Her family grieves. Lost is the opportunity to taste her cooking. Gone is the ability to carry on an adult conversation with her. Left behind are excursions to museums, parks, zoos, berry picking, gardening, and shopping. Recipes and memories that have not been written down may become extinct. Yet in the midst of all the losses, of what was that will never be again, there is an opportunity to keep recreating the relationship. Where we used to go shopping, now we watch episodes of Lawrence Welk. Where once we watched movies together, now we read children's books or look at photo albums. Our activities change, but while she remains there is the chance to love her, to minister to her, to enter into her world and connect however we can. There is the chance to hear her voice and to hear her play the piano, the opportunity to hug her gently, to comb her hair, to take her for a ride or to church. Every moment is filled both with grief and with the opportunity to seize every chance to cherish her presence while she is still here.