As I’ve already mentioned, despite being raised with both Buddhist and Christian values, I don’t feel that I understand either religion very well.
But this weekend, I’ve gained a better understanding of God’s grace.
First a disclosure: I have rewritten this post so many times because it’s a long, complicated story about seeing someone you care about struggling with dementia.
The abridged version is that our elderly neighbor didn’t have a close relationship with her family. Except for her occasional basement tenant, she lives alone. We’ve known her a number of years and she’s always been a very capable and independent woman. Recently, however, she started having problems with her memory – “having a senior moment” as she called it when she couldn’t recall what we were talking about just five minutes ago.
Memory lapses aren’t unusual for older people (I have senior moments all the time and I’m half her age). But we noticed her memory was declining at an alarmingly rapid rate, and she started making decisions that didn’t seem to make sense. Then somehow, she got herself into a contract with an assisted living facility.
Fortunately, she asked that we be there when the social worker came to talk to her about the transition to the facility.
Needless-to-say, there was a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding about her stay. The social worker was under the impression that she had no next of kin or anyone to look after her and that she was entering the facility permanently. So, she was talking about estate lawyers to help her sell her house and take care of her finances. Our neighbor said she just wanted to try it out for the winter and had no intention of selling the house she’s lived in for over 20 years. And she was unaware of the logistics of her contract, where she was staying, what the cancellation policy was and when and if she was going for certain.
the one thing she didn’t correct was the assumption that she had no next of kin or close family members to look after her. I told the social worker that she did have family. I have met her sister, she has a brother whom she loves dearly living in the next state, and he has two children, a son living out west and a daughter who recently moved to our area with her family. Regardless, it seemed that our neighbor didn’t think the family dynamics were on good enough terms to speak about them other than to tell me they were not close.
So, we were in a difficult position: we were concerned about her mental state and some of the decisions she was making, but we’ve always known her for being extremely independent and intelligent so we had to respect her decisions. At least, we were able to talk her into telling her brother and her niece that she was going to assisted living. I reasoned with her that she had spent Thanksgiving with her brother, his wife and her niece’s family, so relations couldn’t have been as bad.
Well, it didn’t look promising: she called her niece and left a message, her niece called back and she didn’t know why her niece called her. I was supposed to go with her on her first day but she had pushed her departure date back so many times that it didn’t look like she really wanted to go. And of course, she didn’t tell us or remember to tell us the day the facility actually came to get her.
A couple of days later, I called to talk to her to get a sense of how she was doing. She seemed happy there as she felt safe, warm, and it was well lit. I remembered that she wanted to escape the winter, and the cold had just arrived with no intentions of leaving any time soon. So, I was happy that she felt safe and warm – perhaps she is in the right place.
My happiness was short-lived, however. Her memory issues seemed to worsen during our phone calls, and she was still waffling between wanting to stay and wanting to come home. Then Butter passed away, and the cold snap came. I let the issue go until the beginning of this week. She had been there a month, and the weather was warming.
On the last day of January, kept thinking of how complicated getting her back home was going to be, or if coming back home was a good idea because of her memory problems. And of course, all of my worry seemed pointless because we couldn’t legally make any decisions for her. My head hurt from all the circular thinking, so I took a long nap.
The next moments almost feel unreal.
I was still asleep and dreaming of doorbells when I realized it really was the doorbell. So, I ran down and opened the door to the answer to my prayers.
An older man, short in stature who look as if he was in his late sixties, stood on the porch. He politely asked if I knew about the lady next door because he was her brother and she had left him the strangest voice mail. He couldn’t get in touch with her because her voice mail was full, so he came down as soon as he was able.
I cannot tell you know high my heart leaped as all the weight of worry just fell off my shoulders. I ushered him in and told him everything I thought was important, which was probably everything. Her memory problem was my primary concern. Thanksgiving was the last time he saw or spoke to her, so I wanted him to be prepared so he could fully understand the situation.
I gave him the facility’s number and address, all the mail that I had collected for her and he was on his way to sort out this complicated situation. I was so happy because she would always talk so warmly about her brother. Yet, despite it, she didn’t want to impose or bother him when I suggested she get in touch with him. He had his family and career and she didn’t want to trouble him. So, I was glad to see that the family dynamics weren’t as dreary as she had thought.
At the end of the visit, she and her brother talked and agreed that he would have power of attorney over her finances and medical care. The fact was that she is his sister and he is going to take care of her.
The past few years of my life have been scarred by traumatic losses that created a deep crisis of faith within my core, with each loss bringing me closer to a schism. So, my relationship with God isn’t so great primarily because I don’t know what or if I believe. It’s a spiritual struggle most days.
But, being able to witness this gave me a better understanding of God’s grace. I don’t know what happened to make my neighbor think she wasn’t worthy of her brother’s time, but clearly, he’s there for her when she needs him the most. I know she didn’t ask for it and probably doesn’t think she deserved it, but she got the help she desperately needed from the person she trusts the most and understands her the most. Love and mercy arriving at the most unexpected but right time.
I don’t know what it means, if anything, other than love exists even if you don’t believe it does.