Faith Failure and Alzheimer’s
By Toni R. Wombaker Spring 2012
Faith. Trust. Unconditional love. Patience. More trust. More faith. These are the things I must focus on daily, sometimes hourly, or minute by minute. So, when our pastor at our church preached on faith, in my heart stirred a lot of emotions.
“Faith failures will happen,” Pastor John’s voice lingered and echoed in my mind. I had never thought of what I was going through as a “faith failure”. I had never even heard that term, but I knew for sure that I had felt it. I knew full-well what a faith failure felt like. I had many of them over the past few years and to put a term with what had been happening on the inside of me felt freeing. I felt like I could see the whole picture again.
It was almost like the day I was told that my mom had Alzheimer’s Disease. I remember, finally, understanding. It was as if I had been trying to complete an immense jigsaw puzzle. There were so many small, intricate pieces. Every piece with a different shape and with a kaleidoscope of colors. It had been extremely frustrating, tiresome, and stressful knowing something wasn’t quite right with my mom, but I couldn’t seem to get the pieces to fit . . . the answers I needed. Then one day, two years after I first took her to a doctor, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. It was as if I had finally placed the last piece of the puzzle and I could see the whole picture. That day felt freeing also, terrifying, but freeing.
This day was very much like that one as the pastor spoke of “faith failures” and of trusting God fully. I could finally put words to what I had been going through and I found comfort in that. After my mom’s diagnosis and I knew what was wrong with her, my frustrations toward her were replaced with understanding why she was doing the things she was doing. My anger at her was replaced with compassion because I finally understood she couldn‘t help her actions and the decisions she had made. My impatience was replaced with patience. My uncertainty was replaced with grief and more uncertainty. My fears were replaced with even more fears. The fear of the unknown was replaced with the fears of this horrible disease. Even with the negatives though, not having been told she was fine or just depressed again when I knew better than anyone that something was wrong, was huge, in and of itself. My fears of the worst were confirmed, but at least I knew I just wasn’t imagining all the symptoms I was witnessing and I knew what we were facing.
Then immediately following came the grief and the beginnings of my series of faith failures. Often I caught myself trying to understand why God would allow something such as Alzheimer’s to exist or for that matter any horrible disease or situation. Why would God want His creation to experience pain, loss, suffering, and tragedy? Why? Why would He allow a person to live a life full of memories and to be actively using His God-given talents and then slowly over time strip those away? Strip away layer by layer of talents, memories, abilities, character, and personality? Slowly, one layer at a time while loved ones watch and can do nothing. Why would God allow that?
These questions swirled through my mind on a daily basis. I have gone through the entire grieving process. I have already grieved the loss of the mom I once knew. That seems strange even to me, because my mom is still alive, but my Alzheimer’s mom is a very simple shell of the incredibly talented and amazing person my mom once was, that mom is gone. And I have grieved that loss fully. This doesn’t mean I love my mom any less it is just a different love. We have different roles now and different lives now. Faith failures? You bet, I talk with God daily hashing this all out, questioning Him. Anger? Yep, it is hard not to be angry sometimes. However, God has allowed me to feel all the feelings and express them as I need. He has also allowed me to see blessings along the way and fill my heart with hopes of more blessings to come as we travel down this crazy path of Alzheimer’s. So, faith failures will come and go, and God will continue to love me and carry me through.
I know this because God has spoken to me in many ways and addressed these faith failures. Through Pastor John, through song, in my dreams, through the incredible bond and deeper bond this has created between my husband and I, through the support of my four children and other family and friends, in the silence of a room that I sit in with my mom, in her eyes that still sparkle, in her smile, in her child-like excitement as we pass the orange garage door each day or when an airplane is overhead or there is a full moon, in my heart, and definitely in my soul. I have heard God loud and clear. There are lessons to be gained in every situation here on Earth and to soak those lessons in and let them help you grow and change and most importantly become closer to Him. Life on Earth is just a glimpse, a flash in time compared to life with Him in eternity and once there things such as Alzheimer’s won’t exist, but the lessons He sent through such tragic events will follow into eternity.
When I could see the whole picture of what it means to believe in, trust, and have faith in God’s plan then it made my struggles with the why not as important. Why doesn’t exist if you just trust, fully trust, that God does have a plan for you and just go with it no matter what that plan entails. Whether the plan is understood or not it is God‘s plan and really that is what matters. This doesn’t mean the journey will be easy by any means, but the stronger the faith and the fewer faith failures I allow to take place the closer I am to God and His plan and the stronger I feel. We must just have faith that everything happens for a purpose and a reason. Even Alzheimer’s.