Over the past decade or so, my Mama’s communication skills progressively deteriorated throughout the entire journey of the disease called dementia (perhaps Alzheimer’s). The first indicators that something was wrong began to manifest as seemingly normal conversations included statements that were repeated over and over (We referred to those incidents as her loop).
As time went on, her conversation skills melted slowly away as her ability to string sentences together decreased. At first it was a back and forth thing – there were good days and bad. The good days gave us hope, while the bad days confirmed we were still on the same downhill path.
For a period of time, Mama retained what I called ‘Muscle Memory responses’. For example, if you asked her how she was doing, she would respond, “Fine.” Or, “Would you like something to drink?” her answer might be “No”, but then she would proceed to pick up the glass and drink it right down.
Mama’s ability to sing remained long after her ability to speak went silent. We knew a lot of songs and so the majority of our visits were spent singing. Eventually, her ability to sing left as well, so I sang all the songs for both of us.
In spite of the fact that her voice was silenced, Mama still had the ability to communicate with her eyes. Quite often when I was singing, reading or praying, her eyes would fill and tears would roll down her cheeks. I found a few Psalms, such as Psalm 23 and 71 that seemed to fit her so I read them to her over and over. I knew they would minister to her spirit so it felt as if I could still ‘do’ something for her.
Over the course of this extraordinarily long journey, various folks would comment that it seemed such a shame about her condition. I had more than one conversation with the Lord regarding it as well. Early on, our family was determined that we would do everything possible to help Mama finish well, but there were times that I wondered just what could be the purpose for this lingering a little longer.
Then one day while reading Psalm 71 to her, I noticed something. Verse 18 says, “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.”
I wondered how Mama, who couldn’t even speak, be able to declare anything about God to anyone? I gave it some thought. I pondered it. I wondered. Revelation came to me over time. I learned that the word ‘declare’ could also mean ‘messenger’.
Mama was a messenger. Her life was a message that didn’t need words. She silently communicated that God did not forsake her. In spite of the long, downward journey into the valley of the “Shadow of Death” that lasted over a decade, Mama’s sweet quietness steadily declared God’s strength to everyone around her.
This season also gave her family something else. Time. The extra time we were given allowed us the opportunity to show her honor. Honor due a parent and honor to a fellow human being. We had time not only to care for her, but her condition opened doors that we never would have otherwise walked through. We were able to get to know both residents and caregivers alike, and these visits were full of chats, sharing the love of Jesus, joys and concerns as well as praying and singing. Perhaps even providing hope to someone else on a journey that God will give them strength as well.
The day came and Jesus sent the angels; her work here was done. Mama finished well.