Observing my mom through the stages of Alzheimer’s dementia has been a grievous process that I have in common with millions of families worldwide. I am not alone, yet my grief is lonely. Never before have I considered the connection between loss of choice to the loss of memory, time and identity. In my brief baptism into these cruel waters of awareness, it seems that the loss of memory is the genesis for the loss of choice. The cruelty of becoming incapacitated in making choices may initially seem to be a minor side effect, but as I observe the long-range impact of “unchoice” this seems to be a debilitating acquiescence to the disease. I am uncertain of all the meaning that Jesus intended when He told Peter,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” – Matthew 21:18
So is it with my mom. In her old age others are clothing her and leading her where she did not wish to go. Choice is slipping from her…and being wrenched from her by me, my sister, the memory care facility staff…all in the name of being for her own good.
While recently reading Carpe Diem Redeemed (Guinness, 2019) the author writes:
“Made in the image and likeness of God, we humans are exceptional, responsible, and consequential. We are free and capable of real choice – ‘I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life.’ (Deuteronomy 30:19). Being free, we are responsible for what we have chosen and done.”
Guinness is making the point that mankind’s freedom to make real choices (in the Judeo-Christian worldview) is a result of being made in God’s image. What about Mom? That freedom of choice is being impinged upon via the loss of memory. There is a type of reversion back to her childhood, and eventually her infancy, should the dementia follow it’s own progression that limits how free and capable she is of real choice. It would be ludicrous of me to deduct, then, that Mom is thusly becoming less like God, less an imager of God because of her incapacity to make choices as she once did. Is a newborn any less the imager of God than an adult? I know of no person who would assert such an argument because even in the midst of our personal rebellions against God, we are still His sons and daughters. Certainly Guinness does not equate the loss of choice as the loss of imaging God. We all have made choices that are selfish, proffering an image that is not very godlike. Mom is in the wake of the great unchoice…no longer deciding the pre-dementia choices she once made.
In the earlier stages of her dementia I found myself describing these resulting ravages of the disease as Mom “losing herself” – her identity. In our American culture this is of most significant value…establishing our personal identity in the masses…our differentiation…our uniqueness. Worries about such inner man marketing escapes my mother. A real benefit of the dementia is that Mom holds no grudges. She doesn’t recall offenses. This seems to be quite Godlike, especially as we depend on Him throwing our repented sins into the sea of His forgetfulness. Perhaps I have wrongly viewed Mom’s loss of choice in the framework of debilitation.
I know that the loss of memory leads to the diminution of choice and that memory informs our choices. At times it breaks my heart to see the incoherence and confusion surrounding my Mom as it relates to making decisions. Sometimes she has difficulty choosing between soup or salad at the dinner table. These seemingly inconsequential choices are resting on a lifetime of cognizant choices to serve her God by serving others. My consolation is that she has laid up “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). My mom has spent a lifetime of choosing life as Guinness reminds us. While we are able, we, too, have the opportunity to choose life on a daily basis which will lay the foundation for living a life of relative unchoice if that becomes our end.
Guinness, O. (2019). Carpe Diem Redeemed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
The Holy Bible, (2010). New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers