There was a lot of whispering around the water cooler. My supervisor was a candidate for Vice President of the department. Many asked, “Was she qualified?” Others thought, “There has never been a woman in this position before,” and “Is she even suitable for the task?” Although there were at least four other candidates, she was chosen to carry the torch of Vice President. Never had I been so proud of my boss of three years. My coworkers and I had a big celebration dinner filled with joy and plenty of gifts to honor her new-found success. Finally, her hard work had paid off and she was headed for bigger and better things.
After the initial excitement died down, I was hit with the news that there would now be a few more additional changes. Although the promotion was a wonderful achievement, I never considered that I would no longer report to my fearless leader. As she moved up the corporate ladder, there was now a new vacancy in the department and things were about to shift. Her current position needed to be filled and I needed a new supervisor.
There was again a lot of whispering around the water cooler. “Who would be the candidate for the new position?” “Would that person be as qualified as my last supervisor?” and “Is this person going to be suitable for the task?” Many candidates began to come into the office. With each interview, anxiety began to build and an unseen dark cloud began to fill the atmosphere. My work environment was encompassed with a state of worry and fear of the unknown. Finally, a new candidate was hired and things began to change.
Through this experience, I realized three things: God is sovereign, change is inevitable and worry and fear is the absence of faith and trust. I often wonder why God sometimes never fully discloses the stipulations of his blessings. For example, even when there is a promotion, we often lose things in the process in order to grow. As God takes us to higher heights and deeper depths, we may lose some friends along the way and may have to endure a lot of negative “whispers” and our faith may be challenged. We may feel uncomfortable at times, but we cannot let fear overtake our hearts, because even though our situation may transform, there is a time and season for every change and this too shall pass.
We must fully trust God that our outcome will be in our favor and even when we go through the process of not knowing the future, there should be a reassurance that God is in control. God encourages us in the book of Deuteronomy 31:6 to “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” He also reminds us in 1 Peter 5:7, to “Cast all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us.” God is with us, through the journey of moving into the blessings He has prepared for us. He is with us when people speak words filled with questions of doubt and uncertainty and He is with us through the midst of change. Leave the unknown results to God, and never fear the outcome of moving forward.
Imagine being unaware of who your loved ones are, or not knowing what to do when someone puts a toothbrush in your hand, or not knowing the words you once used to describe a sunset. This is the reality of some people who are living with dementia. They are truly drowning in a sea of forgetfulness. It can be a daunting experience to watch one’s mother or father lose their capacity to think or reason, to move or speak, to acknowledge that you are their child.
By 2030, it is projected that the U.S population of people over age 65, will double and by the middle of the century, 16 million Americans will be impacted by Alzheimer’s (Alz.org). The implications of 1 out of 8 baby boomers having Alzheimer’s, on my generation (the Xennials) is striking. This means, that for each baby boomer that has Alzheimer’s, 1 or more of my peers will be tasked with taking care of their parent that may or may not remember they are their children. To be forgotten by old classmates, neighbors, or a beloved teacher is one thing, but to be forgotten by your parents is another. To be forgotten by the very ones that helped to shape your own sense of identity is a hard pill to swallow.
But, this sea of forgetfulness can be a double edge sword for those who will be the caretakers. On one hand, it is a burden to face the reality that some of the very memories that shaped you, that made you who you are, may be forgotten by the ones closest to you. This realization can lead to one enter into an anticipatory grieving process (long before the loved one ever dies a physical death). On the other hand, this sea of forgetfulness, requires you to enter into a new kind of relationship with your loved one. It requires you to truly enter their world, to see their world from their perspective, which sometimes shows up like disconnected puzzle pieces. And it’s not our job to put the puzzle pieces together for them, but to hold the pieces they give us, to explore these pieces as far as they will go. This sea, requires us to not be afraid to sink in and lose touch with our own reality, in order to enter theirs.
As a chaplain, providing pastoral care to people with dementia, I have found music and religious rituals seem to be “sticky memories”. There are residents I work with that may never enter into a full substantial conversation with me, they may not always remember the names of their children but if you sing a familiar song (maybe a hymn of the church, or even a song from their school days) or begin reciting the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s prayer, they have no problem reciting it line by line. These things miraculously have not been drowned in the sea. Which makes me think even more deeply about the importance of cultivating one’s spirituality while we have the full capacity of our minds and bodies. I’m beginning to believe that maybe it is the spirit that somehow keeps one’s head above the water when the mind and even the body seems to be drowning in the sea of forgetfulness.