Voicemail Message #1 (French accent, aggitated voice) “Virginia? Virginia? Why don’t you pick up the phone? You have my desk. My little desk. I bought it. It is mine. You gave it to your daughter. I want it back. It is mine. Give it to me. You took it from me. You took everything from me. It is mine. MINE! You can’t keep it. Give it to me! Give it to me! You aren’t worth it! You aren’t worth it! You aren’t worth it!”
Voicemail Message #2 (French accent, calm and pleasent voice) “Virginia. I just wanted to call you and thank you. The bedspread you made for me is beautiful. I love it. It makes the room look wonderful. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.”
Two messages from my mother-in-law, Nicole, who has Alzheimer’s. I saved both of them on my phone for a long time. One woman with two very different personalities. We could never know which we would encounter each day, and sometimes it was someone in-between, or a third person, completely depressed and weeping. My husband’s parents, Nicole and Michael (Michael passed away last June), moved to be near us four years ago. Those four years have been a trial of emotional upheavals as we slowly came to understand that both of them had Alzheimer’s, and then began to learn how to handle the situation.
I was not always the focus of the tirades. More often, it was her husband she berated mercilessly for things done long ago, repented of long ago.
To tell the truth, my mother-in-law has never been a very nice woman, but she is small, and cute, and French, and so sometimes people who met her in the last few years would tell me they thought she was charming. That can be true, but it is so hard to appreciate or even enjoy her sweet moments because they are so quickly followed by savage ones. Her tirades have caused the nursing home a fair amount of trouble. We understand. For the two years before she went to the nursing home, we had to deal with her by ourselves.
At one point, the nursing home had a psychologist come in to test her. The result? “She is an absolutely self-absorbed person. She is completely selfish.” Absolutely true, but perhaps the silliest diagnosis I’d ever heard. Self-absorption is actually one of the traits of with Alzheimer’s, but Nicole has always been fairly self-absorbed, so it was somewhat hard to tell what is from the disease and what is not.
I’ve struggled with many emotions over the past four years. I’ve felt a lot of fear at their anger. Although I guess it was irrational, at one point I hid with my children in the bathroom while Michael pounded on our front door, afraid he had a gun and had come to kill us (I can still feel that fear when I think about that moment). Yet, I’ve also had such a desire to do things to please them (they have been so hard to please) and a great deal of joy and satisfaction when they were happy.
However, the strongest emotion I’ve felt is sadness. I am so sad at the choices they have made which have caused them such misery. As Alzheimer’s made them turn inward toward each other and toward themselves, they found only “bitterness, rage and anger along with every form of malice.”
I memorized the verse from Ephesians about 25 years ago. Although I had always thought it to be true, I had never understood before the destructiveness of until I saw it lived out by Michael and Nicole.
With all my heart, I have desired to bring them peace, joy, and forgiveness. With all my life, I have sought to give them grace and love. Yet in the end, I just feel an ache in my heart. I grieve for them with groans too deep for words. Lord, hear my prayer.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32