The first book I really read and studied about the disease we call Dementia was titled "Contented Dementia." It is a book by Oliver James. As I have stated on blogs before, the method taught in this book very closely resembles the teachings of Jesus.
I can now testify that I have a spouse who is truly content, despite his waning ability to use words and his fading memory. He smiles a lot, even bursts into big belly laughs, as I act funny and silly right along with him and endeavor to humble myself before him.
How did we get there? I see people in the different Dementia support groups who are frazzled, angry, impatient, hopeless. They have certainly not found contentment. Why? Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, writes "Could it be - no one receives the peace of God without giving thanks to God? Is thankfulness really but the deep, contented breath of peacefulness? Is this why God asks us to give thanks even when things look a failure? When there doesn't seem much to give thanks for? Paul 'took pleasure in infirmities in reproaches, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake' (2 Cor. 12:10), and he knew that which didn't look like anything good might yield good, all in the hands of a good God."
This lesson most certainly isn't limited to Dementia, is it? Are God's people not going through great infirmities, reproaches, persecutions and distresses of all kinds right now? The birth pains are intensifying, squeezing, testing the faith of the Believers. How do we find contentment in this world that has turned utterly upside down, where good is called evil and evil called good?
Thankfulness - the "deep, contented breath of peacefulness." It doesn't come naturally to us humans. It must be practiced daily, like learning to play the piano or learning a new language. It is said that one must be immersed in the new language in order to master it. If one is trying to learn French, they need to go live with a French family where they have to speak that language all day long. Perhaps that's why I'm making progress in helping John to find "contented dementia." I'm learning to live and speak thankfulness. And this week I got to experience it from a "master." She is a long-time friend who used to be in the bible study I led at a retirement home where my aging parents were. She is about to reach her 101st year on this earth!
I sat next to her tiny, bony frame on the little sofa in her apartment living room. Yes - she still lives in her own apartment all by herself! She is the picture of contentment. And the thing that overwhelmed and delighted me is that our conversation was all about her funeral plans! "You will sing Because He Lives and then a man in my church with a booming bass voice will sing We're Marching to Zion and then you will read the 23rd Psalm." She spoke it with the exuberance and joy of a young woman planning her wedding! As I drove home I pondered that thought. "She is planning her wedding," I said out loud to the Lord. She is filled with contentment and thankfulness, because she is focused on her Heavenly Bridegroom who has prepared a place for her! Despite her total loss of vision, her ears straining to hear, her memory fading away, and her very meager finances, she is thankful.
Ann Voskamp again: "Even when I am sometimes impatient or unwilling, when I face conflict and heartache, I've begun to accept that even the impossible is a possible opportunity to thank God, to experience the goodness and grace of the Giver of all! There is always more grace. And it's always more than I expect. "
Kelly Ferrari Mills