For a time, anyway, you’ll be able to chuckle over these brain freezes with your family and friends; they’re all experiencing the same thing, after all.
But one day, if you live long enough, you may no longer be able to laugh it off. You may find yourself forgetting the necessities, like taking your medication or eating a meal. You may begin to wander, clueless about your destination and maybe even your location. Familiar landmarks might become unfamiliar; for a moment, you may forget how to get home. And when you are able to shake it off – as if you really can shake it off yourself – the fear may set in.
Last night, I finished And Have Not Love (Harper and Brothers, 1954), another amazing novel by the late Anne Parrish. In it, she describes the early stages of this phenomenon in the 90-year-old heroine Clara:
“Sometimes she grew confused; was it today, or yesterday? Was it spring, or fall? She would lose her place in life for a moment, and be dizzy, and a little frightened. Now, gazing at the white moon, everything became snow and winter, and she was back in a night when her friends had gone to bed, and would not come out to make merry with her, although she called under their windows, the sleigh bells calling with her, and the moon shone bright as day.
“For a moment, the moon clung to the rim of the horizon, then floated free, filling the night with beauty and infinite loneliness, bringing Clara back to the present. She could do nothing, call no one. There was no one to look at her and distract her. No voice so loved that it could never fail her spoke to her from the past.”
So what are we to do when we begin to see the signs of such deterioration in a friend or loved one? The answer – the only answer -- can be found in the title of this novel, drawn from the apostle Paul’s great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
The best thing we can do for those sinking into dementia is to wrap them in agape love – selfless and sacrificial love that has nothing to do with emotions and everything to do with serving God. Allow them to see us as protectors, as people who will care for them even as they forget our names and our relationships to them. Help them to feel safe whenever our eyes meet theirs.
And then? Be there. Make them a priority. Years ago, the daughter of a friend of mine with MS said it was easy to tell who her family’s real friends were. “They’re the ones who just show up,” she explained from her home six hours away. “They mean the world to us. And most important, they mean the world to Mom.”