Sunday, April 7, 2013

Alzheimer’s: Is it Good for the Soul?

Ma Peak

My husband’s sweet little grandmother has progressively lost her short term – and most long term memory. At 97 years young, her past few years have seen her settle comfortably into a new reality. She is no longer telling us that she wants to go ‘home’ – both in the earthly sense and in the eternal sense. Her life has regressed back into infancy, where she eats, naps, and shared smiles with us. A recent development finds her pulling her blanket over her face when she decides that our interaction is over and it’s time for some rest.

Ma Peak is not Catholic and she, along with her dearly departed husband, investigated several churches throughout their wonderfully blessed (five decade) marriage.  But they were always there for us when we had Catholic events going on. While my convert husband’s parents declined such invitations, Ma and Pa where always there – even signing over their permission for their 18 year old grandson to marry his 17 year old bride (me). As with all families, there were disagreements and hurt feelings and all sorts of bumps in the road. This led to the sinful but all too human telling of tales and holding of grudges.

Now that she no longer remembers these events or her reaction to them, I am left wondering: what happens to the sins of those who are no longer able to confess them? Are we somehow still held culpable or is there some way for loved ones to help someone of altered mind attain Heaven? I know that the obvious answer is that ‘with God all things are possible’ and that He ultimately has a plan for all of us. A feeling of responsibility weighs on my mind, however, and I feel compelled to try to find an answer with which I can live. A finely honed conscience can be a wonderful tool for, not only our own salvation, but for helping others.

Here’s what we’ve done so far. When we visit her these days – usually after Mass on Sunday – we share a brief visit including smiles, kisses, and God bless you crosses on foreheads. Then, after her blanket is pulled up over her face, we pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet in her presence. I’m not sure what effect this will have on behalf of her immortal soul – but I am sure that acts like this matter. As her family, we are taking this fourth child of ours (Ma) and doing our best to help her achieve unity with the Lord. However God sees fit to apply these supplications, my security in believing in the Communion of Saints gives me the comfort of knowing that we are somehow giving her aid.
For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion...

There’s also a lesson to be learned here. In her new found innocence, Ma is made new. All of her past prejudices, perceived hurts and grudges have been washed away. She has completed the circle of, first forgiving and now forgetting any transgression that may have been stumbling blocks in the past. As a new creation, she has become a child once again. Our ministrations give her immediate comfort and, hopefully, future assistance on her journey. May we also use her gift of pointing us toward forgiving and forgetting – a sort of self-induced Alzheimer's for the good of our souls. What an opportunity - while we still have the presence of mind to seek absolution for our own transgressions.

On this, Divine Mercy Sunday, may we grow in our faithful seeking of forgiveness through the sacrament of penance!