My wife, Anne, and I recently visited a relative who has moved into a long-term care facility. It was our first time seeing him there. He looked great! Very little had changed about his appearance. And when we first arrived, very little seemed to have changed about his nature: he smiled his warm smile and gave us his gentlemanly “hello.”
But Anne and I introduced ourselves to him because we knew that dementia had clouded his mind and memories. We asked him simple questions about the distant past and he was unable to answer us beyond a few words before his answer morphed into something completely unrelated or unintelligible. Nevertheless, we had a good visit. He even seemed to almost recognize us a few times and told us we’d “made his day” when we said “good-bye.” But the visit was also deeply emotional. There was an incredible disconnect between the person we saw and the person we heard. One we recognized, the other seemed like a different person altogether. We felt a deep grief.
How could God allow someone who was once so vibrant and intelligent to become so disconnected from reality. This was someone who contributed to life and family, church and community in rich and meaningful ways. Now he sits, lost in his jumbled thoughts or he wanders, living in a world he’s imagining.
Does God not care in these situations? Can’t God heal someone and make the confusion go away? Or why doesn’t God just allow a faithful servant, living like this, to die and be with him in heaven? What kind of a life do they have now? These are only some of the heart-breaking questions we can ask when someone we love seems to be existing, but not really “living” anymore.
And yet it’s strange, actually it’s arrogant of me, that I think I know what “real living” is. I don’t create life, why do I think that I can define life?
Jesus told his followers “I came that they (those who follow him) may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV). As a follower of Christ I need to wrestle with the truth of his words. Abundant life isn’t tied to what I do, say, remember, accomplish…. It is tied to Jesus Christ, who made me and called me and some day will take me to be with him forever. If that’s true then my relative is still experiencing the abundant life…somehow. Jesus has not abandoned him. And beyond the confusion, under the mixed-up sentences and in spite of the wandering, he is loved and precious and valuable. He may even have a better idea of what abundant life is than you and I do. Maybe we’re the ones who are confused?
What do you think?