The season of Advent is one of hope for people with Alzheimer’s
How this Christian tradition was a boost to my mother and our family
The Christian season of Advent, from the Latin for “coming,” has arrived. Celebrating the coming of Jesus, Advent occurs over the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Many Christian churches set aside these Sundays to focus on the four aspects of Advent — typically hope, love or faith, joy, and peace, though the order may vary somewhat among congregations and denominations. Each is represented on an Advent Sunday by the lighting of a candle.
We celebrated many Advent seasons with my mother before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and during her battle with the disease. She loved Christmas and passed that love on to the next generations: me, my siblings, and my children.
Gathering in church on Nov. 26, a week before Advent, I was struck by the message of hope, which comes up throughout the Christmas story. If anyone on earth needs hope, it’s those in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease and their families.
Alzheimer’s can’t extinguish hope
In the words of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Bonhoeffer’s words are stirring and carry greater meaning than what my mother or I experienced, but they somewhat apply to my thinking on our years with her dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease seems to touch our very souls. It’s troubling and sad, leaving us feeling destitute and undoubtedly imperfect. It robs patients of everything they and their family hold dear. But it couldn’t deprive my mother of her faith, nor could it steal away the hope instilled in her children by the arrival and influence of Jesus.
My family dealt with loss and caregiving the best we could and relied on our hope. Over time, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, including our mother, suffer the loss of their abilities. We, their caregivers, are continually reminded of our imperfections, and our mistakes are magnified as we navigate the disease’s often gloomy waters.
Yet my mother had hope, as did her family. Her faith, and ours, led us to believe that a better day would come.
My mother’s faith supported her and us, too. We were then, and still are, backed by our faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).
Something better this way comes
If I had the power to eliminate Alzheimer’s and all other dementias so they’d never affect another family, I’d do it. But I haven’t the power. If I could go back in time and deliver my mother from the disease and our family from experiencing the slow progression of her continued loss, I’d do that, too. I’d also transform my caregiving imperfections into something far better. But all of those are impossible tasks.
Looking back, I’m grateful for those characteristics that Bonhoeffer said make the Advent celebration possible: a troubled, impoverished soul and obvious imperfections. We certainly looked forward to “something greater to come.”
Hope, faith, joy, and peace to you this holiday season.
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