I’ve been impressed with the recent interviews and articles about Kimberly Williams-Paisley. The actress is best known for her role as Annie Banks in the Steve Martin movie, “Father of the Bride.” Kimberly has acted in an impressive list of television and movie roles, is married to the country music star Brad Paisley, and is the mother of two children. The recent articles, however, are about her role as a daughter and what she has learned watching her mother succumb to the disease of dementia. Sometimes people seem to die twice.
Linda Williams, Kimberly’s mom, has struggled with dementia for years and the family is only now speaking of it. One of the great struggles of this disease is trying to preserve a person’s dignity and independence while watching them fight to remember abilities and memories they will no longer have.
Almost every family has a story like Kimberly’s. Fox News reported that more than six million people suffer with Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to double or triple in the coming years. My own family watched as my dad tried to write down everything he could, hoping that his lists would help him remember when his brain failed him. Mom took care of Dad everyday, keeping him home and keeping him happy. We talked about the difficult decisions that would have to be made one day. But for us, that day never came. Dad died of Lymphoma before we lost him completely to Alzheimer’s.
Kimberly’s mom was diagnosed at the age of 61 and she told Redbook magazine, “Since then, I’ve watched a passionately joyful woman, a devoted mother, an engaged listener and friend deteriorate and transform into someone almost unrecognizable. It’s been agonizing to slowly lose her.”
In that same article Kimberly said, “Unexpectedly, I discovered a kind of healing.” It was this quote that I thought most worth writing about. She had been speaking with a woman at a party whose dad had struggled with Alzheimer’s. The woman said that the night before her dad died, she spoke with him on the phone and he was incredibly lucid. She said for the first time in her life he told her he loved her, over and over again. Kimberly said that listening to her story caused her to burst into tears and then know that she needed to love her mom in a new and different way.
The next day she went to see her mom in the nursing home where she had been placed. Her mom didn’t know her, but that was not the point. She said, “I focused on the new person in front of me, in many ways a stranger. She radiated a peace that comes from having little self-awareness. In many ways, a new mom.”
I read the article about this famous actress with a mixture of feelings. I miss my Dad all the time. I’m surprised how often I think of him. And I know that my own thoughts and feelings are just a fraction of my mom’s. It is hard to watch someone you love die, and it is even harder to watch your loved one seem to die “twice.”
So of course, that is the point of this blog. I want to pass on something I was taught, and something I have found to be true in my own life and ministry. I was reminded of it by the woman’s comment about her dad’s surprising “lucidity.” I wish I could ask her, but I would almost bet her dad was a Christian.
I carry with me a memory of my dad in the doctor’s office when he was told that he was in the advanced stages of cancer. My “dad” came back that day. He began to speak to the doctor with understanding about what she had just told him. He told her he had lived a full life, he was going to heaven and that he was just fine with the news. He handled the news for Mom and myself. After Mom and Dad left the office the doctor looked at me and said, “Who was that?” It was my dad – whole again because God had allowed it. Mom and Dad talked well into the night, saying things that they wanted to say. They went to sleep and the next morning, Dad was once again, a victim of Alzheimer’s.
This is what I wanted to say to all of you. No matter what life brings our physical bodies, the Holy Spirit within us is always whole. He is never afflicted by the diseases of this world and is therefore always capable of doing his work. Communication is always possible through the Holy Spirit.
If you can’t tell the people you love, that you love them, God’s Holy Spirit can. If you can’t tell the human being you forgive them, God’s Holy Spirit can. It might seem that a person is unable, but the Holy Spirit inside them is always able. Let that knowledge change your ministry. I speak to and pray with people all the time that the world would designate unable to understand. But I look in their eyes, and they do.
I pray all of you will test my theory. The world thinks Alzheimer’s patients die twice. I don’t think my dad EVER died – he just went to another room sometimes, before he went to heaven. Who has God brought to your mind while you were reading? What is God telling you to do for that person?
I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your thoughts and actions as you minister to those around you.