Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Love never fails

It's long been one of my greatest fears: Alzheimer's. Dementia. I fear slipping away into the murky, gray sludge of confusion, perhaps greater than I fear death itself. I fear changing into someone who can't remember the love and bonds I share with my friends and family, the blessing they've been to me, and all the ways they've cared for me over the years.

It's a terrifying prospect.

I watched my grandma forget and change. The mind that had been so sharp for so long, solving crossword puzzles and memorizing poems and recalling the names and faces of everyone she ever met, turned into a tangled web of childhood memories and paranoia. The tongue that had encouraged me and told me stories turned sharp, as she sank deeper into the fear only those losing their minds can understand and the rest of us can only hope to never know.

But the most painful part was watching her love for my grandpa and reliance on his steadfast presence in her life turn into distrust, suspicion, and anger. The accusations she made against him burned my soul. I don't know if there's anything sadder than watching a man who has stood faithfully by his bride for over 50 years try to keep loving her, keep caring for her, keep trying to get through to her, even when she can see nothing but the murky grayness. And doing it because he knows of nothing else to do. She is his only purpose.

"You don't care about me," a woman shouted, just this morning at the nursing home. Her husband gently tried to nudge her into the room where a sing-a-long was about to commence. I'm sure he knew she loved music and would enjoy the time.

But she slapped at him and screamed in his face. "You don't care! You don't care!"

Her eyes were fire and spit but his were brokenness and desperation. 'I only want what's best for you,' they said. 'I care more than you'll ever know.'

Is it too big a burden to bear? After a person has given some 50 years of their life to another, must they also carry the weight of the fear and anger and murky grayness? Could anyone blame them for turning their loved one over to someone else and hoping they'll never remember? Maybe not.

But what is love, really? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Love never fails. Perhaps there is nothing more beautiful and sacrificial than the man who loves his wife to the bitter end, even when her mind has surrendered to the grayness and he receives nothing but anger and fear in return. No greater embodiment of the love spoken of in the Bible than the man who braces himself for the slapping hands of his wife and quietly says, "It's okay, dear. I think you're going to like the music. I'll be waiting for you in the hall when you're ready."

In these examples of love, I see myself, shouting hateful words and slapping angry hands at my God from the murky grayness of my own mind, which is tainted by sin and brokenness and can't see things perfectly as His does. But He does not fight back, or abandon me, or throw my words back in my face. He just gently nudges me toward what He knows is good, even as I protest, and tells me, "It's okay. You're okay. I'll be waiting for you when you're ready."

Love never fails.