18 May 2009

Saying "Thy Will Be Done" in Advance

Almost twelve years ago, my daughter Julie became aware of how seriously Alzheimer's disease had affected her grandmother's memory and personality. She, along with several other relatives, visited her in a care center where she was recovering from a serious fall. I was living abroad at the time, on a mission with my husband, and in answer to a letter from my daughter I wrote the following:

Dear Julie,

We appreciated your information on the visit to see Grandmother in the care center on the day of the [family] reunion. I am grateful that you understand things the way you do. I feel the same way. It certainly is terribly sad to see Grandmother suffer, and to realize that she will probably soon leave this mortal existence. But she is ready to go, and she seems to be trying her best to be brave and endure whatever she needs to right now.

We talked to Uncle [D] Friday, and he said that he thought that it was an eye‑opener for most of the grandchildren to see her as she was. He mentioned that perhaps many had not realized the extent to which Grandfather stage‑managed visits when he was present to help her deal with her Alzheimer's disease. Apparently she has times when she is more lucid than others, and times when her memory is sharper than others. (Michael said that his visit with her on Tuesday went well, and that she remembered their conversation when he talked to her on Thursday). But her short term memory is definitely unreliable, and seems to be deteriorating rapidly.

Uncle [D] said that Thursday she was still very confused as to where she was and why she was there, wondering if she were lost, and needed to go home. But Friday she was much calmer, and accepted the fact that it was best for her to stay in the care center for now. Grandfather realizes that he cannot carry her around; but they are hopeful that in a week or so the therapy will enable her to walk again, so that she can go home. If it turns out that she will not be able to walk, then they will need to consider whether to adapt their condo with a stair lift, hospital bed, etc., or to move somewhere else.

Apparently when you all arrived at the care center, Grandmother said something like, "I'm old, I'm dumb, and I'm ugly." When Uncle [D] mentioned that she had said that, I cried. I thought about how difficult it must be to FEEL that way because you can't take care of yourself, and you can't think straight, make decisions, or remember things.

Her entire life has been one of cheerful, unselfish service to those around her. She always had a high energy level, and whether it was vacuuming, sewing or doing crafts, she was incredibly quick. It wasn't until she was in her fifties that I noticed that I could work comfortably at her pace!

As age and infirmity began to slow her down, she came to terms with her situation, but continued to try her best to do things for others. These last few years she even struggled with her arthritis to keep making cards and [ribbon] roses for friends and family even though it was painful and time‑consuming. She always loved to cook and bake, and she has had to turn all the meal preparation over to Grandfather. She always took pains to be well groomed for Grandfather, as well as for the world in general. Now she probably can't even put on makeup by herself. She was a marvelous teacher and administrator, both in church callings and in the community. Now she realizes that she has to ask others to decide everything for her, and help her with the most basic every day tasks. She IS incredibly brave.

In the zone conferences this month I have been talking about maintaining our enthusiasm as missionaries, and overcoming discouragement. Some of the scriptures I am using seem to me to apply to Grandmother, and I hope they will always apply to me, too:

"And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord." Mosiah 24:15
"Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." (D&C 123:17)
Grandmother has always been an example to her children, and she continues to be a light and an inspiration to all her posterity as she deals with her problems now. She is a righteous woman, and whatever she may have to suffer until Heavenly Father determines that it is time for her to leave this mortal sphere, it could be said to her as it was said to Joseph Smith:

"all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (D&C 122:7)
"peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high" (D&C 121:7‑8).
Truly her faith in Christ and her life of good works have given her the sure hope of a glorious resurrection.

Once again she and Grandfather face the refiner's fire, and I know they will both emerge even purer and stronger. Although in the future Grandmother may lose so much control that she can no longer be as cheerful and accepting as she is now, I firmly believe that her spirit has already said, "Thy will be done."

I love her. I honor her. I pray that I may demonstrate that love and honor as I try to follow her example, even unto the end.

With all my love, Mother

Although my mother recovered physically enough to return home, she became bedridden a few months later. My father installed a hospital bed in the living room, and lovingly cared for his eternal sweetheart until she passed away at the age of 91 in August 1999.

I will turn 69 shortly. As I see the effects of aging manifest themselves, I can't help but wonder if my life will follow a path similar to that of my mother.

Will I end up with a body unable to move from a bed on its own? Will my mind cloud over and fall prey to degenerating nerve connections? Will my spirit go dormant; or will it remain totally aware of being trapped in a mortal housing that is cut off from all meaningful communication with those around me?

No matter what the coming years may bring, my trust is in the Lord. I will continue to strive to make the best of whatever circumstances I may be in, and my goal is to truly internalize the wise advice of Elder Joseph P. Wirthlin's mother, as he explained it in his General Conference talk, "Come What May, and Love It."

I want all my loved ones to know that I say now to Our Father in Heaven, while in full possession of all my faculties, and with all my heart ( just as I believe my mother did), "Thy will be done."


Mary said...

Thank you for sharing this. I loved it!

RoAnn said...

Thanks for your kind words, Mary! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

m&m said...

Finally getting to read this. Thanks for sharing. I love you!

Anonymous said...

Well done blog. Good thoughts. May I ask - what does you title mean? Where does that phrase come from: "fellowcitizen with the Saints" and what's the signficance?


RoAnn said...

Anonymous, thank you for your kind words.
My title comes from Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verse 19, "Now ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
In New Testament times, the members of the church that Jesus Christ established referred to themselves as "saints." In Ephesus, there had been some conflict between new members who were Jews and those were Gentiles. I think the apostle Paul was telling the Ephesians that it doesn't matter if we are from different countries, or different ethnic backgrounds--when we are baptized into Christ's church we ought to fully accept and love one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Since my husband and I have moved often, and lived in 10 different countries on five continents, we have been grateful to feel welcomed and fellowshipped by members of the church all over the world!