“I’m claustrophobic in here. I can’t even walk out the doors. Each day my biggest challenge is to not go crazy in here,” my dad lamented as we chatted in his room in his assisted living facility.
Not one hour later he called me. “Jennie! I think my dog is locked in my car. I can’t get out to see, but I think I left him in there. Do you know anything about that? Can you help me get to him?” I gently explained, “Dad, your memory isn’t working properly right now. You must be thinking about a different time and place. You don’t have a dog or a car. You haven’t had either one for about two years.”
And so it goes, each day with my dad. One hour he’s sort of aware of the reality of his situation and the next he’s completely confused and even delusional. Alzheimer’s Dementia is really hard for us both.
I uprooted my family five months ago, moving us from church planting in the Czech Republic back to Colorado to enter into my dad’s health crises. Being his only family member who is able to provide any support, it didn’t feel like we had much of a choice. We left with heavy hearts and we’re still waiting to feel better about it.
My husband and I are accustomed to working hard and seeing tangible results from our labor. We knew caregiving would be difficult, but I think we subconsciously thought we would feel some gratification from it. Just as the articles and experts warned, caring for someone with memory loss will suck the life right out of you. The whole situation is just dissatisfying.
The harsh reality is that his condition isn’t going to improve, not matter what I do. His disease didn’t stop in its tracks when I moved back. There are no activities that lead to good days or bad days. There is not one single thing I can do or say to improve his plight. His great size, aggressive demeanor, and complete lack of money (he’s on Medicaid) make his particular scenario even more condemning. While I know in my mind that it’s beneficial that I am here--I take him out, communicate with his doctors, advocate for his care, calm him down when he’s upset, provide him with the only love he receives--my heart wants these efforts to make it better. And they can’t.
Like I said, dissatisfying. My hope, joy, and satisfaction cannot depend on my efforts in caregiving nor the results that it does not produce. I am learning afresh what it means to hope in God alone. God Himself made my dad to be my earthly father. He ordained this disease and He called me home from the mission field to enter in. He is God and I am not.
Coming from a family of nonbelievers, I have often held tightly to the closing verses of Habakkuk. In the past, when my anxiety has risen and I felt myself freaking out over the spiritual state of my loved ones, I turned there. And now I’m turning there again and often. I need to be reminded that though this situation be lonely, though it may not improve, though my father suffers apart from God, though I cannot do one single thing to help, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).
Habakkuk realigns my heart every time. Yet, yet! Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. He, He! He is my strength.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.