As the number of people gifted with many years increases, those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia also increase. Such suffering often precipitates a crisis of faith in God’s steadfast love. As a clinical gerontologist specializing in work with dementia patients and their caregivers, I’m often asked, “Where is God in all of this?” and “Why has God abandoned me (or my loved one?)” Many affected by dementia find it difficult to believe in the psalmist’s phrase “you give them drink from the river of your delights” or similar assertions of faith. After a few years of total immersion in dementia care, I also had begun to question God’s faithfulness—until I discovered MaryElla.
The resident of a dementia care facility, MaryElla could no longer remember her own name. One morning, while Jeannie, her aide, was dressing her, MaryElla wailed repeatedly in distress, “What’s my name? I don’t know my name! I can’t remember who I am!” Jeannie, angry with God because her own mother had recently been diagnosed with dementia, saw MaryElla’s anguish as her own mother’s future, and her anger at God intensified. Disguising her own feelings, Jeannie replied, “Your lovely name is MaryElla!” Upon hearing her name, MaryElla immediately calmed down, smiled broadly, and laughed, saying “Half the time I don’t know who I am”—and then she pointed to the crucifix on her bedroom wall and exclaimed loudly and with great joy, “But he does, and that’s all that matters!”
Jeannie saw the light of God radiating from the light and truth of MaryElla’s testimony. MaryElla’s witness to God’s steadfast love restored Jeannie’s belief in God’s faithfulness.
Dear God, open my eyes to the many ways you exhibit your steadfast love, not only in the good times but also in the difficult circumstances of my life and the lives of others. Amen.