(This was originally written for the extended family. I shared it, along with some of my other writing, at the memorial we had for Grandpa.)
Grandpa is gone, and it is natural to think about what we have lost in his passing. But there is something I would like to share today, something that I think gives a needed perspective. In this time when many are feeling burdened with grief, it is good to remember what burden Grandpa felt. Grandpa was very aware of his Alzheimer’s, and that sickness was a great burden to him. He did not speak much about it, but today I will share with you some of his earliest words on the matter. It is something for you to think about, and remember.
When I first came to take care of Grandpa I wasn’t sure how much he understood why I was there, or how much he understood about his problem. Then one day shortly after I came, we went on a walk. It was sunny, and warm, a beautiful fall day. Grandpa decided he would take a walk up toward Doug’s. I guess Grandpa was feeling fairly well because we made it to the top of the hill where Grippen Road meets Glenwood before Grandpa decided to turn around.
When we turned around Grandpa seemed to collect himself and then said (without any lead-up), “I do hope and pray that this curse would be taken away.”
I said nothing at first. On other days when Grandpa had complained about his general state I commiserated about the fallen state of man and how our only hope was new bodies. At first I wasn’t certain if he was taking up that general eschatological thought in his out-of-the-blue comment. But I thought not, both because I guessed his recent blow-up at Grandma was on his mind (“Well, Pa,” she had said afterward, “You’re not very clear.” “I’m sorry I’m not clear,” he had said,) but also I felt that the way he had gathered himself before making the statement indicated he wasn’t making an off-hand comment about the condition of the world in general but something much more personal.
He said nothing more after a few steps, so I said, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s very hard. I think . . .” But then he stopped. Finally, he said, “I don’t know what I think.”
He spoke no more on that subject and a little later when he spoke again it was on a different subject.
The short exchange might not seem to mean much if you were not there to hear the way in which he said it, but I’ve recounted it because it meant a lot to me. I think all of us who have interacted with Grandpa could see quite clearly that he was painfully aware that he couldn’t communicate clearly, and that he made a “fool” out of himself by doing stupid things. But to be aware that you can’t speak clearly at this particular moment, or that you do stupid things, is not the same thing as expressing a larger awareness—both the larger issue of causation, (that is, “I am doing these things because I am succumbing to Alzheimer’s”,) and his spiritual relationship to his problem.
Now we can say, “I hope and pray” in a very flippant manner, but that was not the way in which Grandpa spoke. He spoke quietly, but in an earnest way that told of what was deep within him. I felt it was a rare moment where he opened up to express his recognition of his affliction and his innermost earnest desire and petition regarding his state.
I wasn’t sure he would ever speak so openly about his condition again, but about a week later we had another exchange.
On this occasion Grandpa had gone to bed for the night, but I needed to finish up on some stuff I was doing, so I didn’t go to bed at the same time. I went to check in on him a little later and he was sitting up in bed. I took care of his minor problem and was starting to put him back to bed when he paused and said, “Do you believe that?”
“What,” I said.
“What he said,” Grandpa said, gesturing toward the CD player. “Do you believe it applies to this age?”
I had left the Bible on CD playing for him (he liked to listen to it when he went to bed) and the section being read was from the gospel of Mark where Jesus speaks about faith saying, “If a man has faith he can say to the mountain ‘throw yourself into the sea’ and it will be done.”
“Yes,” I said. “I believe it.”
“Well some people say there are two ages,” he said.
“It says elsewhere in scripture, Grandpa, that all scripture was written for our instruction. So I believe it, yes.”
“But some people say, ‘Well, then, why are you sick?'” Grandpa said.
I answered, “And Jesus disciples asked him ‘why was the man was born blind–because of his sin or his parents sin?’ And Jesus told them ‘Neither, but that the glory of God might be revealed in his life.’ And we can say the same for your situation, Grandpa.”
He gave a little chuckle and said something to the effect, “I don’t understand why.”
And I said, “I know. The situation of Job is a good example. He suffered a very lot and God didn’t give him an explanation. God wouldn’t explain himself to Job—Job had to accept it because God was God. We have to believe by faith that He is a loving and compassionate God.”
“Yeah. It certainly gives you something to ponder,” Grandpa said.
Then, in alluding back to the issue of faith he said, “I sure would like to be healed from this . . . or whatever comes down the pike.”
I said, “He will, Grandpa. He will heal you . . . if not by making this body well, then by taking you out of this body.”
He gave a little chuckle and said something about hitting him over the head with a board. (Earlier when he had expressed distress about waking up so much in the night I suggested he hit himself over the head with a board to go back to sleep. I suspect he was furthering the joke on this occasion by suggesting patricide by the same method.)
I am telling you these stories to give you some idea—as much as any of us can—of what Grandpa’s thoughts were. The sickness was a burden to him, in particular the Christian (or spiritual) aspects. Not only did he wish that his sickness would be taken away, but the implications of his sickness evidently weighed on his mind. If he was not healed in answer to his prayers did that mean he didn’t have enough faith? Or was this all happening to him because of some past wickedness in his life? This last thought was something he expressed more than once.
Today we face the weight of grief, knowing that we will not see Grandpa again in this earthly life. But in facing that grief, we should remember the burden that Grandpa faced. It was his earnest desire and prayer that he would be healed, and his sickness taken away. That was his heart’s cry. And God is faithful, and He has answered that prayer. Grandpa now knows what he longed for, and the burden he carried has been lifted away. His burden is gone. Though we may be sad that he has left, I saw what burden he carried these last three years, and I know what he desired.
For his sake today, I am glad.