He comes to me often in dreams. I see him laughing and walking freely without a walker, and I marvel. I ask him how he is so much better. He says the doctor put him on a new medicine and it is healing him. In other dreams, he is killed in an accident. Both dreams seem better to me than the reality that his dementia has progressed to the point that my mother can no longer care for him. He will soon be placed in a nursing home, a place he wanted to avoid and begged me personally not to allow. Painfully, my medical training prevented me from making that promise, but I avidly begged God to take him sooner.
This winter I traveled 1267 miles to his home to help with his care. I mostly saw a shadow of him, and after everyone went to bed, I sobbed, gasping in uncontrollable shudders. My mom and I visited the nursing home, a beautiful and loving place, and chose the admission date.
I ranted at God.
How can this be, Lord? You know I’ve been hungry for more time with him while he’s in his right mind. I’m just getting to know him.
My father is slipping away. Yet everything around me during my visit spoke of his intellect and will. I was sheltered in the cozy two-story log home he built from a kit. His winter boots still sat at the back door. In the basement, neatly labeled paint cans held paint waiting for his brushstroke. Nails and every kind of hardware rested in orderly bins prudently collected for his next fix-it project. His writings and books were on the shelves in his office.
My parent’s fairy tale golden years are over. With his new diagnosis of dementia, the father I’ve longed for, and saw only glimpses of in my life, now has no further chance of emerging. He is disappearing AGAIN, and I am heartbroken.
My father suffered most of his life with untreated depression. The lack of treatment was his choice. Apart from depression, I do not know who my father was meant to be. Now, with dementia, I’m losing him forever this side of heaven.
Years ago, despite the warping of depression, I saw and fell in love with the good of God in my father. However, the conflicts in his mind continually stole him from our family for years on end. Those good times were so brief compared to the dark ones and the hunger I had for him as a daughter.
These final days of loss, of “him”, now force me to stand as if ravenous in front of a banquet table filled with food at which I have no chance of sitting.
Is this what a mother feels when she births a child who subsequently dies young?
Is this what the relatives of a soldier feel when he does not return from a battle?
Treatment of mental illness can be optional as long as we are ready and willing to lose something, maybe even a life, relationship, or creative tribute to God.
I believe that if we, as an individual, family, church, or nation, avoid recognizing and treating mental illness and continue to stigmatize those who seek treatment, then we have succeeded in placing our stamp of approval on that loss and on that robbery of life.
May it never be!
Mental illness is a crafty thief. (Dementia is, too.) Unfortunately, this form of burglary happens all too often without protest.
It must stop. If you or someone you know is depressed or suffering from mental illness, they need to get help. Support and encourage those who are in this battle of life.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
Abundant life takes our cooperation and diligence to Him. Such a life is not without obstacles, but anything else is a robbery.
Have you experienced a “robbery”? How did you cope?
My son was robbed of his body by a freak car accident where he became a quadriplegic ten years ago. He was completing his MBA at Harvard Business School. He completed his degree three years after the accident, but has never recovered the use of his body and lives with the constant frustration and limitations of a body that keeps him from accomplishing the goals he had for himself. While he works to seek to build a new identity, he feels that he was robbed of all his dreams.
He is a hero in the struggle he maintains to build anew. That is a true accomplishment. I will pray for him as I pray for myself–that one day we can step out of our place of loss completely and take hold of the new gifts God has for us. Be blessed!
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind can comprehend what God has planned for those who love Him.” 1 Cor. 2:9