“I love you, and I want you to know that I think about you and I am so happy that you are my daughter.”
Words that would have been welcomed, but heard casually, just a few years ago are now words that strike a deep chord and make me pause. In the midst of the diminishing of my mother into dementia there are moments of clarity when I know she truly does know who I am and her statement of love is with knowledge. And there is joy in the midst of struggle as I hear in a way I could not hear before.
When she was always able to tell me she loved me I took it for granted and heard it without much thought. Now, when it comes so infrequently I hear it and I grasp and I listen for her voice and for the change that tells me she knows.
There are, honestly, not many moments of joy in walking through this decaying. Simply watching the graphic diminishing of a strong woman who could challenge you intellectually or cook up a masterpiece, who could play the piano or catch you with her wit…there is no joy in seeing her walk aimlessly, clinging to us for security with frightened eyes.
Joy in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of struggle, like this can only happen when there is hope. Without hope we will simply gird ourselves up for the struggle and wait for it to conclude. We will not allow ourselves vulnerability. When we have hope, we have the freedom to be vulnerable and in that vulnerability to find glimpses of joy.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” Phil 3:20,21
The hope and the waiting for that Savior, for that transformation is so deepened in watching someone diminish before our eyes. Dementia is such a specific eroding and it steals the thing that makes us so ourselves…our memories. Our history. Our identity. The hope that our God is able to subject all things to Himself…even this loss…is what gives the foundation for joy.
Honestly, without the knowledge that God will do something through this and will restore all this brokenness…there would be no joy. With the knowledge though, we find ourselves laughing in the midst of sorrow and the laughter is all the sweeter. I find myself in discussions with my family that never could have occurred if Mom had not become who she is now. The struggle makes the moments of clarity she has and the intimacy we have as a family all the stronger and all the sweeter.
The joy is an act of defiance in the midst of the struggle. It sneaks up on us and strengthens us when things are bleak…because the joy is the seeping of the truth that we are held by One who has the power to subject all things to Himself. He sees and He knows and He hears and He will make even this new.
Whatever the struggle we face, we have to have the courage to face it well. Without hope we will just get through it, endure. With hope, we have the freedom to experience the struggle and we will find joy.