Almost twelve years ago, my daughter became aware of how seriously Alzheimer’s disease had affected her grandmother’s memory and personality. My daughter, along with several other relatives, visited her in a care center where she was recovering from a serious fall. I was living abroad at the time, on a Church mission with my husband.
As I was recently doing some family history work, I found a letter I had written to my daughter at this time. Following are excerpts of the letter:
It certainly is terribly sad to see Grandmother suffer, and to realize that she will probably soon leave this mortal existence. But she is ready to go, and she seems to be trying her best to be brave and endure whatever she needs to right now.
Apparently when you all arrived at the care center, Grandmother said something like, “I’m old, I’m dumb, and I’m ugly.” When your uncle mentioned that she had said that, I cried. I thought about how difficult it must be to FEEL that way because you can’t take care of yourself, and you can’t think straight, make decisions, or remember things.
Her entire life has been one of cheerful, unselfish service to those around her. She always had a high energy level, and whether it was vacuuming, sewing or doing crafts, she was incredibly quick. It wasn’t until she was in her fifties that I noticed that I could work comfortably at her pace!
As age and infirmity began to slow her down, she came to terms with her situation, but continued to try her best to do things for others. These last few years she even struggled with her arthritis to keep making cards and [ribbon] roses for friends and family even though it was painful and time‑consuming. She always loved to cook and bake, and she has had to turn all the meal preparation over to Grandfather. She always took pains to be well groomed. Now she probably can’t even put on makeup by herself. She was a marvelous teacher and administrator, both in church callings and in the community. Now she realizes that she has to ask others to decide everything for her, and help her with the most basic every day tasks. She IS incredibly brave.
In missionary conferences this month, I have been talking about maintaining our enthusiasm and overcoming discouragement. Some of the scriptures I am using seem to me to apply to Grandmother, and I hope they will always apply to me, too:
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15).
“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (D&C 123:17)
“[A]l these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7)
“[P]eace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7‑8).
Truly her faith in Christ and her life of good works have given her the sure hope of a glorious resurrection.
I love her. I honor her. I pray that I may demonstrate that love and honor as I try to follow her example, even unto the end.
Although my mother recovered physically enough to return home, she became bedridden a few months later. My father installed a hospital bed in the living room, and lovingly cared for his eternal sweetheart until she passed away at the age of 91 in August 1999.
I will turn 69 shortly. As I see the effects of aging manifest themselves, I can’t help but wonder if my life will follow a path similar to that of my mother. Will I end up with a body unable to move from a bed on its own? Will my mind cloud over and fall prey to degenerating nerve connections? Will my spirit go dormant; or will it remain totally aware of being trapped in a mortal housing that is cut off from all meaningful communication with those around me?
No matter what the coming years may bring, my trust is in the Lord. I will continue to strive to make the best of whatever circumstances I may be in, and my goal is to truly internalize the wise advice of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin‘s mother, as he explained it in his General Conference talk, “Come What May, and Love It.”
I want all my loved ones to know that I say now to Our Father in Heaven, while in full possession of all my faculties, and with all my heart (just as I believe my mother did), “Thy will be done.”
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Wow, what a powerful essay. I hope that I can say “Thy will be done”. Thanks for sharing.
The older I get (I know it’s all relative, but still) the more I realize that saying, “Thy will be done” really is a key to a peace-filled life. Easier said than done, however.
Thank you for this, Rosalie.
This post reminded me of the day I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. My husband came home from work and I cried with him. In my prayers that day, I may have let the idea “why me?” slip out. Immediately after praying I felt my heart and mind say, “Why not me?” God didn’t give me this chronic illness. He gave me the opportunity to have a body. And sometimes, bodies don’t work perfectly. I was still happy to be alive and be with my friends and family. I had ample things to be grateful for. The idea “Why not me?” has helped me cope with some more of life’s ups and downs since then as well.
Rosalie what an absolutely beautiful post. My father passed away not quite three months ago. He too had Alzheimers though it was a fall that resulted in a broken hip that caused his demise.
Many times I was asked why I was not angry with Heavenly Father for allowing this to happen. Not once have I ever thought I had reason to believe Heavenly Father played a part in my father having this horrible disease. As was mentioned, we were given bodies and bodies are not perfect. Unfortunately they are subject to diseases and ailments.
Though a couple of things I did learn through all of this is compassion and patience. Compassion for those that have this disease and patience in having to deal with it. A great lesson was learned and for that I am grateful.