How to Help When You Can’t
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A Ruthless Toll on the Unsuspecting
Miles away, I have a friend going through “non-heaven” right now. His wife of over 40 years has been living in a nursing home for the past two years—and he has too. For 20 hours every day, he sits in a recliner listening to his beloved moan and watching her stare into space seemingly unaware of any movements or conversations in her midst. He sleeps only in two-hour intervals to check on her. Never mind the physical demands of caretaking, imagine the emotional cost of watching your spouse’s personality seep away while her strong body persists.
Even as he grieves his loss, guilt riddles my friend. Why is she in that bed and he isn’t? Deep down, love motivates him. He wants the best for her, but he loathes his existence at the nursing home. He and his friends have begged God to take his beloved home to heaven.
Why, Lord? These two have been faithful servants of yours since childhood. They were the ones visiting the nursing home, driving shut-ins to church, and giving time and money to fellow believers. Why did you allow her to be stricken with this insidious disease? She was church treasurer and a singer who spread the good news of your forgiveness and compassion. You healed Aeneas from years of paralysis in an instant (). Please bring her back to life such as you did for Dorcas, another woman who was always doing good. Do it so others might believe ( ). I beg you, either heal her or take her home.
Yet, despite the cries for help, there she sits, alongside her faithful husband, whose wellbeing is crumbling with hers.
Dementia often strikes two innocent victims at once. In The Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver’s Handbook (2018), Dr. Sally Burbank and coauthor Sue Bell, whose husband died from Alzheimer’s, acquaint readers with the staggering proliferation of the disease and its cruel, life-changing effects. In the United States, an estimated 5.5 million people have contracted Alzheimer’s. After diagnosis, life expectancy is seven years. A relative, a close friend, or you are likely to encounter it.
Burbank and Bell’s book has given me a glimpse into my friends’ unenviable existence. This couple has done everything together. Now, they must weather the unstoppable plague that changes everything, as they inch their way toward the dreadful valley for relief.
Empathy screams at me to do something. However, I can’t change the inevitable, and I’m frustrated. I’d like to prevent the disease from destroying two loved ones rather than one. Yet urging my caretaker friend to pull away, when it’s not me sitting beside my betrothed—the woman I pledged to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, becomes tantamount to blaming him for his own demise.
Love and good intentions don’t always translate into helpfulness and understanding. Take Job, for example. Unaware that God had allowed Satan to do all kinds of evil to turn him away from the “One who gives and takes away” (), his friends felt compelled to explain why he had fallen on hard times. They blamed him for his problems. However, Job knew better:
"I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief."(NIV)
His friends didn’t understand. They couldn’t. They hadn’t walked in his shoes.
Reader, if you ever find yourself wanting to encourage a caretaker of an Alzheimer’s patient, tread carefully. Be quick to listen and slow to speak ().
Copyright © 2019 Tim Bishop, used with permission.
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