Alzheimer’s and Advent
This is her last night in her home of the past 46 years. Tomorrow morning she will be lovingly escorted to the East McComb Nursing Home where the last chapter of her life will begin. None of us know how long or short that chapter will be. Dad is 86, in relatively good health, and tired. He has cared for her as long as he could. Tonight he will sleep with her. Tomorrow night he will sleep by himself, alone for the first time in 60 years.
His questions have been fair. Why? Why her? Why now? Why this? Mom has spent her life in service to God and the church – pianist, church treasurer, Sunday School teacher, maker of Kool-Aid for 60 years worth of Vacation Bible Schools. Couldn’t have happened to a finer woman, but it did happen to her. Dad’s prayers, which have moved mountains across decades, did not budge this one. Alzheimer’s came, and kept on coming.
This morning at church, 500 miles away from Mom and Dad, we talked about the meaning of Advent. I sat behind Adrian, a middle-aged woman whose body was disfigured, whose eye patched, whose speech slurred and difficult. We were singing “peace and earth and mercy mild.” I’d prefer some mercy wild enough to heal a disease that has denied the prayers of the saints. But as we sang, her hands went into the air. And when the children came on stage to sing their choreographed songs, Adrian delighted in their physical movement to the Christmas music. I wondered if she remembered days long ago when she could move like that. I saw joy and hope and life. God came to Adrian this morning. I saw it with my own eyes.
Advent celebrates the coming of God. First in Jesus as an infant, finally in Jesus as the one who makes all things right. But in between these two comings there are millions. I saw one this morning.
Will there be another tomorrow morning at East McComb Nursing Home? Can God come to one whose grasp of history is fading, to one who cannot recall the Bible stories that have shaped her, to one who will soon wonder who the people are who are smiling at her? Can God visit someone who has Alzheimer’s? And will she know that God came?
As a trained theologian, I am not looking for a full-blown theodicy. I have preached sermons to people with my own questions and even written books to answer them. I know the answers. Religion, good religion, is loaded with very helpful answers. Bad religion isn’t worth the effort. But what I hope for this Advent is not answers but presence, the presence of God in the East McComb Nursing Home. I’ve never wished for that before, but I do now. I hope God comes there. I hope Mom recognizes God. I choose to believe both.