The Long-Term Care of a Loved One
It was a challenge for my wife and I to knock on the door of the local Alzheimer’s Society and ask if we could come in. The warm welcome received from those good people and their expertise in the ensuing days were a great encouragement and a relief. The prelude to this visit was the realization that something was very wrong with my dear wife, something that I could not really identify. Lurking in the back of my mind was a question to the Lord, ‘Why was this ominous cloud overshadowing us?’ It turned out to be a very dark storm cloud that remained for seven years. We had already come through a long and difficult time with our second son who is autistic. That is a story in itself stretching over many years. Happily, circumstances are much better now, for which we express our deepest thanks to the Lord for His goodness.
But now I was asking other questions. ‘Now, Lord, if I am trying to serve You, why heap this upon us as well?’ ‘If I am not serving You satisfactorily, could you not perhaps indicate the need for adjustment in a gentler way?’ I do believe the evil one strikes hard at such times, and he delights to generate discouraging thoughts to weaken our faith. He would say, ‘You must be well off track if this is happening to you both!’ And, again, ‘If as you say, you completely trust in the Lord, then why are you knocking on the door of the Alzheimer’s Society? Where is your caring God now?’
In answer to such questions, it is quite striking how the Lord brings scriptures readily to mind. How important they were when the devil tempted Him! The three questions that he put to the Lord were no ordinary questions, yet, in answer to each, the Lord simply quoted scripture. Significantly, it completely silenced the evil one on each occasion.
I recalled that when Elijah was beside the brook he was fed by ravens that do not usually oblige by bringing flesh and bread to God’s servants on a regular basis. Not only so, but scripture classifies them as unclean birds. But, of course, the Lord had commanded them. When the brook dried up, it was a Gentile woman who fed Elijah. We note too that when the Lord sent him to her, He did not supply the address, 1 Kgs. 17. 9. Everything had ‘a step-at-a-time’ pattern.
In those harrowing days, I learned that the Lord maps out the pathway of life in most unexpected ways. He is quite happy to use all sorts of people too. Only in retrospect did I realize how kind are His ways, how marvellous His works, and so quietly accomplished. Many were the nights when I lay awake thinking as to what was around the next corner of our lives, as well as grieving that I was losing my wife who had been my spiritual companion for forty-five years. It was a great trial to see her decline. She gradually lost her speech, though still able to comprehend but not respond. Only when the Lord took her home did I fully realize that we did everything together in life.
The visit to the Alzheimer’s Society was preceded by a visit to our local Health Centre. We went together, and I handed a summary note of the symptoms to our doctor. It was a momentous day, yet how gently our Christian GP handled the situation. She acted very quickly too for, in a couple of days, a consultant came round to the home to assess my wife’s condition. Within a very short time, a brain scan at the local hospital confirmed the problem. It was no coincidence either that Social Services were absolutely superb in their expert advice and wonderful assistance. Was all this chance? Never! This is not the normal pattern of life! The smoothness of peripheral events convinced me that they were invisibly linked to the prayers of saints who were asking the Lord to help us. What a comfort to hear one and another assert, ‘We are praying to the Lord for you, every day’.
One Lord’s Day we were driving home in silence from the morning meeting. My wife’s deterioration precluded any conversation and, on impulse, I therefore said to the Lord, over the steering wheel, ‘Lord, I think You are very hard on me!’ Since it had long been firmly lodged in mind that the Lord never makes a mistake, I quickly modified this to ‘Lord, it seems as if You are very hard on me!’ The remembrance that the Lord never makes a mistake was a great comfort at a very difficult time.
Eventually the day dawned when I could no longer cope with caring for my wife at home. How true it was that in such trials, as the Alzheimer’s Society had emphasized, the carer suffers as well as the patient. The terrible mountain of responsibility was mentally crushing, overwhelming and claustrophobic. When coming home from the meeting one evening, my wife opened the passenger car window and then the door. I shouted to her to shut it, for, at the time, I was in the outside lane approaching a roundabout. Another car was beside us in the inside lane! Then, there was the round the clock problem of double incontinency, which, with one’s own wife, is a dreadful nightmare, especially as there was no response to verbal communication when trying to help her.
When Social Services were contacted, there was an immediate response. In less than a month my wife was in a highly desirable private care home in our town, one that had a long waiting list and in which Social Services funded four beds. One of them the Lord had earmarked for my wife, and, amazingly, she was not opposed to going there. The cost to us was zero. The journey was a mere seven minutes from home by car and without the need to go through town. Again, I asked, ‘Was this all mere chance?’ The answer clearly was, ‘No’. Rather, it was a token of the Lord’s nearness all the way through, not round, our terrible problem, and this was confirmed in other ways too.
When I visited my wife on one occasion, I was told that she was in her bedroom. On entering, I found two care staff trying to feed her, a task far beyond their remit. When she was dehydrated – this happens when the brain shuts down signals to take in food and drink – she was transferred to the local hospital and was there nineteen days. The standard of care was again superb. From one visit, I have a lovely memory of seeing her sleeping peacefully between crisp, clean, white sheets.
The move from hospital was to a nursing home where again the care standard was superb. Up to that point, I had never asked the Lord to take my wife home. It seemed too sacred a thing to ask of the One who upholds the mighty universe merely by the spoken word of His power. The decision must be left with Him. He makes perfect decisions that are the very best for those He has redeemed and loves.
On what was to be the last occasion I saw my wife, it was evident that her quality of life had diminished to a very low state. Only then did I say to the Lord, ‘Lord, I think it is time now that You took her home’. A couple of days later, He did just that. Suddenly, she was in His presence. She was only in the nursing home for thirteen days and, at the end, weighed a mere four-and-ahalf stone. I did not see her in death, and I was glad. I preferred to remember her in life. The Alzheimer’s Society commented in a subsequent letter, ‘Her sweetness and compassion were still very evident to those of us who knew her here’.
Even in such distressing circumstances, I had peace of mind to readily accept that the Lord was not only in control but that He too ‘suffers with’ the feeling of our infirmities, not only when He was on earth, but here and now. ‘Man of sorrows’ was an appropriate title for the Son of God who came! He did not have to come, but He did. When He came, He needed to die a voluntary death for us that we might live – eternally and with Him! That is why although saying goodbye to my dear wife was sad, the future with Christ our Saviour is safe and secure, sublime and eternal, and for all whose trust is Him.