Alzheimer’s Locks Up Its Victims, but Christ Holds the Key

Many Christians, myself included, fear not only Alzheimer’s, but any mental illness that robs us

“Many Americans today live in fear of Alzheimer’s, for that terrible disease seems able to steal our soul and obliterate our personality. But it does not. It only has the power to lock it up for a season, until the One who made it calls it back from its troubled slumber.”

 

On September 15, 2010, my grandmother, Fannie Karedis, died peacefully in her hospital bed after a decade-long struggle with Alzheimer’s. She was one-week shy of her 95th birthday. The day after I learned the news, I hosted my weekly home Bible study for college students. That semester’s study was centered on C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, and that evening our focus was Lewis’s thought-provoking meditation on the fall of Adam and Eve.

The Holy Spirit used the serendipitous intersection of Lewis’s meditation and the news of Grandma’s passing to teach me a lesson about our unique status as human beings made in the image of God but fallen. Even while our minds deteriorate, our status as image bearers of the living God remains.

This helps us come to grips with the awful, slow killer, Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Limited Thievery

Many Americans today live in fear of Alzheimer’s, for that terrible disease seems able to steal our soul and obliterate our personality. But it does not. It only has the power to lock it up for a season, until the One who made it calls it back from its troubled slumber. The psyche does not die, but goes deep down into a place where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, where thieves cannot break in and steal.

Consider the marathon runner whose car veers off the road, leaving him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Though his broken body prevents him for now from expressing the joy he takes in running, it does not have the power to annihilate that joy. His spirit remains that of a marathon runner, despite the condition of his legs.

Or consider the child born with Down syndrome or severe autism. Though the world often views such children as having no personality, those blessed teachers with the patience and compassion and eyes to see know differently. Such children do have a unique personality–and a unique kind of joy–but it only breaks through in glimpses and is seldom seen but by those who are pure in heart.

In the case of my grandmother, even in her final weeks—when she could barely speak and had to be spoon-fed—a trace of her personhood still shone through. Whenever the nurses lifted her from her bed to the wheelchair, she would let out a faint but audible, “Opa!” (the Greek equivalent of the Texan “yee-haw”). The Fannie Karedis who was, and still is, crafted in God’s image had not disappeared.

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