Fear makes our world dark. Sometimes the world of a caregiver is black with it.
For today, we fear the confusion, anger, and paranoia that are devouring our loved ones. When we think of tomorrow, we know it will bring only further decline. We wonder when it will come, what it will look like, how we will manage it.
Fear can narrow our vision to the point where we actually create what we fear. We watch so hard for the next bad thing that bad is all we see. Discouragement is all we hear. Dread is all we feel.
Fear makes us weak, and weakness gives the victory to Alzheimer’s. But what if we get strong? What if we go into training, train ourselves to look for a bright spot every single day? Expect that bright spot? Or two? Or three?
Fear threatens us all—Mom, Dad, and me. We’re paralyzed by it, each in our own way.
Mom is afraid of people and situations that are born in her imagination and grow there to monstrous proportions. She tells us at least once a week about a man who comes to the door and tells her that, because the fence surrounding the back yard is a few inches into the neighbor’s property, the house my parents have lived in for 45 years will be repossessed.
“The fence is perfect, honey!” Dad tells her. “No one will take our house away.”
“Oh, you never believe me. He’ll be here soon. Maybe in a few minutes!” Mom’s eyes search the room. “Where’s the broom? I’ll beat him with the broom. You never do anything. I’ll beat him.”
She seems to satisfy herself that she has a plan. But we’ll hear about the man again in a few days. I move the broom to the garage just in case.
Dad fears Mom will leave him. Always aware he is powerless to stop the disease, he’s certain one day she won’t recognize him. His love for her won’t matter.
Already their conversations are shallow and repetitive.
“How are you feelin’ today, honey?” Dad will ask her.
“Fine, Daddy. I’m fine,” Mom answers. “And Charley is fine, too. He’s really fine.”
Charley is the black miniature poodle who is treated by both Mom and Dad as their third child. The only boy.
“Ole Charley needs to go to the vet for his rabies vaccination,” Dad mentions. His casual words are a mistake, causing Mom to ask again and again what rabies is and does Charley have it and when can we take him to the doctor.
“I don’t want to talk about anything any more,” Dad tells me later. “Everything I bring up scares her.” He puts his elbows on the table and bends his face down into his palms. Talking is all they have.
My fear is wide and deep. I know that, when we see the doctor, I must confront him with the truth about Mom’s mental status. But Dad wants me to be quiet. Maybe there’s no problem, he tells me. If there is, the doctor will discover it on his own. That kind of thinking is, I know, almost as irrational as some of the scenarios Mom comes up with.
I will do what I must do, but I fear Dad’s anger. Maybe he’ll tell me to go on, go home, don’t bother trying to help. Maybe he’ll be hurt because I didn’t trust him to know what’s best. I fear causing him more pain. I fear losing his love.
Mom is afraid of things that won’t happen. Dad’s afraid of things that will almost surely come to pass. I’m afraid I can’t rescue either of them, or even myself.
Fear paralyzes us all. And we let it.
Mom has no choice, but Dad and I allow fear to win. Dad and I have choices. Why don’t we see them?
The first choice we must make is to consciously break free of the narrow, dark tunnel of fear. How? Replace fearful thoughts with hopeful ones.
Joy is alive in this house.
I can broaden my vision.
I can focus on light, not darkness.
When I search, I can find something to smile about.
It won’t be easy at first. It will take deliberate effort. Maybe I’ll have to write down the positive statements, carry them with me so I’ll remember to think them. Maybe I’ll say them out loud—challenge Dad’s negative expectations as well.
I can’t change Alzheimer’s, but I can change my attitude toward living with it. With deliberate effort, I can focus on the positive, the sweet miracles that—even in the darkness of Alzheimer’s—play themselves out every day.
Miracles like the bird that pecked at the kitchen window this morning. Mom wasn’t happy about it. She glared at him. He glared back. She glared more, leaning slowly but relentlessly closer to the window, until her nose almost touched the glass.
Finally the bird had enough. He flew away.
When Mom turned from the window, we saw she hadn’t forgotten how to smile. With lips and eyes and a squaring of her shoulders, she celebrated her victory.
“Did you see that, Daddy?” she asked my father. “That bird won’t hurt you now. I scared it away.”
“You sure did!” Dad boomed. Then, more softly, “Thank you, honey.”
So. Right here, right now, we have a choice. As the hours of this day pass and moods change and change and change again, will we walk in the light of Mom’s triumph over the bird? Or will we allow ourselves to stumble back into the darkness of fear? The miracles are there; they will unfold for Mom whether we notice them or not. But we’ll see only what we’re looking for.
Why not watch for miracles?
Open our eyes, Lord, and feed our spirits. As we help our loved ones through each day, nourish us with concrete signs of Your gentle care. Give us strength to expect Your power, faith to watch Your miracles unfold, and joy as we thank You for these sweet signs of Your presence.
In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. (Ps. 5:3 NIV)