A few days ago I had the privilege of telling our story to a group of ladies at our church about our 9-year trial. I was asked to share how God had helped us along the way. It's been 5 months since Gary went to Heaven and it was the first time I'd gathered my thoughts about our years with Alzheimer's Disease as a whole, and the key ways our Lord impacted us during that time. It's a story of God's power on display through human weakness. If you would like to listen, click on the photo of Gary and I below. (It's audio of my talk along with a slideshow of the photos I showed during my talk.) OR, If you would rather read the notes of my talk they are posted below the photo.
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To read my notes, start here:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I’m so happy to be here tonight to BOAST about my weaknesses because Christ used them to display His power. In order to do that, I need to go back a few years so you can see how God gave us more than we needed to succeed. Tonight you’re going to hear a sad story, but I don’t want you to be sad. You may be afraid that something like this would happen to you, but I don’t want you to fear. You may be right in the middle of something just as hard or harder, but I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed. I want to encourage you. I want to bring us to the God of grace who wants to strengthen you. I want you to smile with me at our great God, because I’m going to tell you what He has done.
40 years ago...
my husband and I promised God that we would love and serve each other no matter what. “For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.” Looking back, we are grateful to God for our daughters, their husbands, and our grandchildren. We began attending Grace about 34 years ago and loved serving in the college ministry here for many years. Gary was an electrical contractor and I helped him with his business. We lived in the same home our entire marriage and had no plans to leave it ever. We were enjoying our grandkids and looked forward to travels to visit family and friends. Our lives were full and like most people, we had plans and dreams for the future. Our plans were not to be.
About 9 years ago, Gary began to have difficulty with his thinking, particularly with problem-solving. This showed up in his work first and then other areas. Because of some other things going on right then, we both wrote it off to his being over-worked and super busy, but the cognitive problems got worse. We sought medical help. At this point, it was clear, he had “mild cognitive impairment” so there were months and months of medical and psychological tests to discover the cause, and after eliminating a long list of possibilities, it was determined that he had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Type Dementia. He was only 57. (Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is rarely contracted under age 60. Dementia is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. I would guess that most of you have someone in your family or know someone who has dementia of some form. As the Baby Boomers age, there are going to be more and more who suffer with it.)
Shortly after Gary’s diagnosis...
he asked me to find the Alzheimer’s Association website so he could read about the typical symptoms of his disease. (Memory Loss, Confusion, Personality changes, Repetitive behavior, Loss of communication, and the ability to walk, sit or control his body. Eventually he would need full time assistance with everything.) I watched him read the list, with tears in his eyes. He never asked about it again but a few days later he prayed with our friends and asked God “that during his illness, he never do anything that would dishonor the Lord.” He feared that as he would lose control of his mind, he would do something sinful, but Gary didn’t panic, get angry at God, or beg Him to take it away. He submitted himself to God’s plan for him. Gary was content with the biggest, scariest trial he would ever face. It was scary for both of us because we knew what would likely happen as the disease would progress, and we would begin the “long goodbye.” But even so, back in 2010, Gary shared the Lord with our 4 year old granddaughter. He was barely speaking at the time when he very clearly said to her… ”When you get to know my Jesus, it’s gonna be great!”
"I am well content with weaknesses..."
I wasn’t always well content…I had my own set of fears.
Would we both be unselfish enough to go through this trial in a way that pleases the Lord?
I would have to give up my time, pursuits, energy for the sake of serving Gary completely. He would have to give up the things he loved, his work, his home, his fish pond. Gary’s responsibilities were added to my own, and it was a crushing weight. The transition into my new role was not always smooth.
Early on someone gave me a wonderful book by Robertson McQuilken who gave up his career in order to care for his wife with dementia, because of his vows of love before God. This book set the tone for me. God used this man’s wonderful example to encourage unselfishness in my life. This trial really revealed the idols in my heart that were stealing my worship away from God. I found that “keeping things the same and comfortable” was an idol in my life. At times I resisted the changes coming. It was a grace of God that He revealed this to me.
Would I be able to keep Gary at home with me or would he need a nursing home?
I couldn’t bear the thought of him not being with me, yet what if I wasn’t capable of caring for him.
Would I keep loving Gary when he no longer knows me? How do you love completely with no return on that love?
He was already getting confused about who I was. He thought I had a twin sister who was trying to come between us. Between these episodes and the loss of his abilities to care for himself, there were many tears and prayers shed together. The losses were painful. I was in desperate need of grace and strength.
“I am well content with distresses.”
On top of the personal losses, there were financial losses.
We had financial needs. – Recently I was going over the events of the early years of the trial. Things were so difficult then. With Gary’s diminished capacity to work, we needed extra help to keep business alive, until we knew what was wrong. His business had been suffering for multiple reasons, but mostly because of his increasing mental problems. There was a real estate investment we had made before we knew Gary was sick, and it became a financial burden because Gary couldn’t keep up with it. We were financially unprepared for Gary to stop working. Once we knew what was wrong with Gary, we closed our business but that meant we lost our medical insurance as well as income. We were left with no resources of our own, and had to depend completely on God to care for us. HE DID. There were financial gifts and practical helps abounding from the body of Christ.
God showed us that He was listening to my cries for help in a remarkable way. – I decided to apply for a job at our local Starbucks. For minimal hours there were full benefits, so we could get our medical insurance. It was close to our home and Gary could stay alone for short periods at that time. I don’t know how I got the job, apart from the Lord. There was a group interview with about 15 young people. Around the circle of applicants we were all asked ‘Why we wanted to work for Starbucks.’ Many noble answers were given, such as ‘wanting to be part of the SB community,’ or ‘wanting to change the world’ by selling such a good product that is fairly traded, and helping third world farmers. When it came round to me I said, “I really need a part time job, close to home that provides medical benefits.” The next day I got a call from the local store manager, and I was hired. I asked for the opening shift so I could get home to Gary when he was waking up. I was there for two years while we waited for Gary’s Medicare to begin. Though it was not an easy job, it was perfectly tailored to our needs, by the One who upholds us with his strong arm.
Those years were exhausting. – I had to be at work from 4:00 am -8:00 am every weekday. When home I was liquidating Gary’s electrical inventory, tools and truck. There were many medical appts., as well as my regular activities. On top of that, our house was becoming a burden, since Gary was unable to take care of all the maintenance issues in the house and garden. I'd get off work, come home and mow the lawn or fix broken sprinklers...the things Gary used to do. I decided we should downsize and sell our beloved home. That added more work to do as we prepared it to sell. Looking back, it is amazing to me that I was able to persevere during these two years. Only by God’s strength.
“I am well content with difficulties.”
What seemed difficult for us, was easy for God.
There were so many difficult unknowns. How would we survive financially? Gary was confused about who I was. Our ministry at Grace was fading away. We ended up switching from College Ministry to Mainstream because Gary couldn’t keep up with the pace and the constantly changing faces of the college students any more. For instance, he used to be involved in the lives of the students, having conversations on a Sunday morning, but he increasingly withdrew, getting his coffee and donut and sitting down alone. It seemed our usefulness in the body of Christ was ending. I didn’t know that God was preparing us for a future ministry. I will tell you about it later.
In 2010 we moved to a smaller place that I could manage. At the beginning Gary and I went for walks and even took a couple of trips across country to see family, but his physical difficulties progressed, confusion got worse and soon we were staying close to home, limiting our days out. Gary’s world got smaller and smaller. So mine did too. I was depressed for several weeks over how Gary was declining so rapidly. This verse really ministered to my heart then, and repeatedly since.
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32
If God gave the very greatest gift for our good, then everything else He gives is good for us too. Through redirecting my thinking to what was true, God healed my heart and restored my joy. I referred back to this verse many times during the ensuing years.
One year later
in 2011, my sweet parents (both in their 90’s) moved in across the street. It was such a blessing to have them nearby but as their needs increased over the next three years, a new layer of responsibility was laid upon our family. I was able to help them some, but eventually caregivers were needed for them as well as Gary. During the next 3 years, even though there were ups and downs, we settled into our trial. It was at this time that God did an amazing thing. In addition to 6 caregiving hours, Gary and I received wonderful support from our Bible Study and other friends at church. But on the days I was alone with him, Gary was needing more assistance than I could give him. Most of the time, Gary was content to sit in his recliner and listen to music or work with his "projects." But when I needed to move Gary to the restroom, or in or out of the car, or getting ready for bed, or up in the morning, my body was getting hurt. The wheel chair was heavy. My hands hurt, trying to help Gary dress, as he gripped the fabric. Supporting him as he “scissor stepped” was hurting my shoulder. Something needed to change… I told the family: "What we really need is a young man with a strong back who can help with sporadic physical and personal needs throughout the day...10-15 minute segments and then go. It doesn't make financial sense to hire someone to be here all the time, since caregivers need a 3 hour minimum and they'd be sitting twiddling their thumbs 90% of the time." Well of course that seemed impossible. The timing seemed right for a live-in helper, but we couldn't even think of the right type of person. A student would be gone too much. A retired person likely lacks strength. The Lord had provided the room, but who could fill the bill? We ended the discussion with "We'll just have to keep praying about it, and see if the Lord will work it out.”
Just a few days later, April called. A young man in their college ministry in Florida who had been praying for us, and following my blog, said he’d really like to come out to California to help you both. He wondered if you'd like his help?" He’s a CNA, works from home, loves Jesus, responsible, young, strong, and willing to exchange rent for care. No one suggested this to him. God prompted him to come to our aid. Jason was with us during a very important transitional time and served us wholeheartedly during those months. He forever endeared himself to our family. He will always be a reminder that... “God is intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Ps. 139
God had been graciously strengthening us for seven years. He proved His power in our lives in each daunting situation. I think it was to prepare us for 2014. We would need it more than ever. It is hard to describe the stresses and losses of last year. Even with all the good help from family, friends, and caregivers, there were times I wondered how I could manage to help all three of my dear ones. I felt like I was putting out fires constantly. For most of the year I was managing 9 caregivers between the two households. Gary became completely bed-bound, sleeping comfortably 22 hours a day, only awake while being fed his pureed food or having his teeth brushed. On the rare occasion he actually opened his eyes he did not appear to recognize me. He could do nothing for himself. My father was bed bound from a small hip fracture, and my mother was hospitalized with a heart condition. Things deteriorated and by October, both of my parents were in Heaven. There was much to do in planning their memorial services, settling their affairs and selling their home. There was little time to grieve their loss. I found myself increasingly lonely for Gary, sad about his condition, and overwhelmed with the pace of life and big decisions to be made throughout the year.
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” I was strengthened over and over. In fact God gave me victory over these things. Here’s how:
“In all these things we over-whelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
Romans 8:35-37- Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
Pastor John explained in his commentary that to "overwhelmingly conquer" means to “Over conquer.” It's having victory with "success to spare." If we belong to Christ, He will make us victorious in our weaknesses.
Yes, I was lonely.
Since 2011 there had been no more “I love yous,” but I found that God was enough. When the feelings of loneliness rose up, I called a family member or friend, to ask for prayer. I remembered Romans 8:32; that God made the greatest sacrifice and would fill the voids in my heart. I did not despair. He heard every cry of my heart and provided encouragement every time I needed it. It might be a special verse, note from a friend, or remembrance of something Gary had said in the past. Remember that at the beginning I feared that I wouldn’t be able to love Gary enough. God gave me more love than ever for Gary. That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!
Yes, I was sad.
Gary’s ability to read, talk, smile, understand, steadily diminished for years. Thankfully, he was comfortable and peaceful, but watching his helplessness was heart wrenching at times. Early on, by GRACE, I began “thinking about what is true.” (Phil.4) This trial was not going to go away. I tried to embrace that fact, and began to think of ways to give Gary a meaningful life. (flip book, memory books, gadget box) This has turned into ministry on my website. It gave me SO MUCH JOY to do these things for Gary. GOD CONQUERED SADNESS WITH JOY! That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE
Yes, I was easily overwhelmed and uncertain.
2014 was a rollercoaster ride. It is hard to pace your life, when you don’t know how much longer your dear loved ones will be alive. There were multiple events across the street. My mom had heart problems, my dad was falling and ended up with a hip fracture and bed bound for 6 weeks. The days with my parents were precious and I’m so glad they were nearby. I would not have been able to travel to be with them. During this crazy time, my health began to give me trouble. Headaches, blood pressure, weight gain, allergies, neck pain. I was encouraged to get refreshment in order to not “burn out” so I knew I needed to carry on with my life a little. I enjoyed a couple of small trips last year, some special weddings, and kept up with my artwork which is always a sweet time for me to think and relax. I feel like I’ve been in a time capsule for years and lost time with my family and friends, especially the grandkids. Gary’s condition was fairly stable as he slowly declined, but precarious. Some event would occur that would take his life. A bed sore could lead to a systemic infection. Aspirating his food or drink could lead to pneumonia. Failure to swallow, could lead to starvation. He was so weak, that I began praying that God would take him home in God’s perfect time. On the other side of this trial, He is giving me back the postponed relationships and my body is recovering. GOD CONQUERED UNCERTAINTY WITH TRUST. That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!
Yes, I was in need of wisdom.
There were so many big decisions to be made, and my “head” couldn’t help me. (I could use the entire evening on this point alone, but will just give you a couple of examples.) Should I continue going to church on Sundays without Gary? Should Mom and Dad go to assisted living? How many caregivers could they afford to hire? What about “end of life” planning? What would Gary want? How long should my mom be on life support? After Mom died, should my Dad live with me? When should my dad go into Hospice care? Etc., Etc.
Hooray for James 1:5. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.” Absolutely true! Every time I faced a big decision, the Lord gave me the wisdom I was asking for.
Gary set the example for me way back in 2007. It was a time when he was confused about my identity, and was unsure if he could trust me to sign a Social Security form I’d asked him to. He went missing one day and 45 minutes later I got a call from our pastor, Rick Holland. Gary was in his office getting his advice, making sure it was ok to sign. Rick reassured him and Gary signed and came home. That incident, laid the groundwork for me when up against big decisions throughout the following years. I will never forget it. GO TO YOUR ELDERS! Heb 13:17 “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”
Many decisions I needed to make involved our family. Thankfully, my daughters and their husbands are all believers so their advice was invaluable to me as well. We came together over many issues to see what the Word of God said. One of them helped me think through my concerns with going to church without Gary. Leaving Gary with a caregiver on a Sunday morning was one of the hardest things I had to do. I would be a weeping mess during the hymns. Why? Grateful to be there, praising God’s character, but sad to leave Gary at home after so many years of being at Grace together. But God wants us to meet together with the body on the Lord’s Day. By His Grace, I chose to obey, and it was such a blessing every Sunday morning to know I was pleasing God.
GOD CONQUERED MY QUESTIONS WITH BIBLICAL ADVICE. That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!
In all these things...
'GARY AND LAURIE, overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.’
Our Pastor, JOHN MACARTHUR wrote… “Just as we can only love God because he first loved us, we can only hold on to God because he holds on to us. We can survive any threatening circumstance, and overcome any spiritual obstacle that the world or Satan puts in our way because…‘in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.’ Romans 8:37”
Continuing in Romans 8, For I am convinced that neither death (Gary’s death) nor life (my life alone) nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present (our trial, your trial), nor things to come (the unknowns we fear), nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, (even Alzheimer’s Disease) will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Forty years ago...
I said “…till death do us part.” Five months ago God parted us and I said “good-bye” to my Gary. Gary is in Heaven with his Savior. He is fine now, "extremely fine.” He is finally "home" and I am so relieved and thrilled for him. His mind is whole. He is experiencing joy like never before, because, at the beginning of his Alzheimer’s, he wrote in his own words…
“I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…to be all He represented Himself to be in the Bible. The Christ, the Son of God. I believe Him to be the soon and coming King. I am not a believer by birth, nor can I be without God enabling me. Jesus has forgiven all my sins, and has made me a member of His family.” G.P.
One of his favorite verses is:
Romans 6:23 - “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you don’t know Jesus, and have not yet turned from your sins, and submitted to His Lordship in your life, please don’t delay in making things right with God, through Christ. There is no victory, no success apart from Him.
Meanwhile, my earthly life goes on.
My hopes of Gary smiling at me, or saying a word, or noticing if I walk through the room, are over. But now there is something new. Feelings of joy and satisfaction, for Gary's new condition. I can’t wait to see Gary again, in Glory, where he and I will be face to face with the One who made it possible for us to keep our vows and love each other “no matter what.” I'm forever grateful to God for allowing us to travel this road together upheld and strengthened by the love of God.
My 40 year ministry of serving my husband is over. God has me changing gears and it feels odd. Please pray for me going forward. As I grieve the loss of my Gary, I want to grieve in a way that brings God the attention and honor He deserves, letting others know that God is more than enough for any problem or loss, for those who are truly His. It’s easy to get ‘self-focused’ as a new widow, with many options before me. I want to make the best use of this time for the Kingdom. The faithfulness of God has not diminished just because Gary is not here with me anymore. God was faithful and good to Gary. That was evident in his life. The same faithful and good God is MY God too. I am excited to see how else He will continue to display His strength through my weakness.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to is being useful at our Alzheimer’s Dementia ministry at GCC. We meet on the last Saturday morning of each month, for breakfast, spiritual encouragement, and prayer. We offer others spiritual support. Please pray for this very special ministry. There are no doubt many in our church who are touched by dementia, and could use the spiritual refreshment. Perhaps you would like a place to serve. Some in our group have a hard time coming to church, because there’s no one to sit with their loved one at home for a couple hours, or assist them on the campus. (i.e. You can’t drop off a loved one with dementia while you go park. They will wander away.) Others need help applying online for govt. services. The needs of primary caregivers are great and always changing. If you believe the Lord would want to use you to help us, please join us. Please let others know about this and encourage loved ones to come.
Pastor Rick McLean gives oversight to our group at Grace Community Church. 818-909-5519
I love sharing the practical things I’ve learned in caring for Gary. I've made many of them available in the Alzheimer's Resources section of my website.
I can’t think of a better way to finish our time together, than by reading what Susannah Spurgeon wrote after the death of her husband, and preacher, Charles Spurgeon.
I have traveled far now on life's journey; and, having climbed one of the few remaining hills between earth and Heaven, I stand awhile on this vantage-ground, and look back across the country through which the Lord has led me.
A well-defined pathway is visible, but it appears devious and wandering; sometimes skirting a mountain-top, whence one could catch glimpses of "the land that is very far off"; and, further on, descending into a valley shadowed by clouds and darkness. At one time, it runs along amidst steep places, and overhanging rocks; at another time, it winds across an open plain, brilliant with the sunshine of goodness and mercy, and fanned by breezes which are wafted from the fields of Heaven.
There are flowers of joy and love growing all along the way, even in the dark places; and "trees which the Lord has planted," give shade and shelter from too great heat.
I can see two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand—heart linked to heart. True, they have had rivers to ford, and mountains to cross, and fierce enemies to fight, and many dangers to go through; but their Guide was watchful, their Deliverer unfailing, and of them it might truly be said, "In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years."
Mostly, they went on their way singing; and for one of them, at least, there was no joy greater than to tell others of the grace and glory of the blessed King to whose land He was hastening. And when he thus spoke, the power of the Lord was seen, and the angels rejoiced over repenting sinners.
But, at last, they came to a place on the road where two ways met; and here, amidst the terrors of a storm such as they had never before encountered, they parted company—the one being caught up to the invisible glory—the other, battered and bruised by the awful tempest, henceforth toiling along the road—alone.
But the "goodness and mercy" which, for so many years, had followed the two travelers, did not leave the solitary one; rather did the tenderness of the Lord "lead on softly," and choose green pastures for the tired feet, and still waters for the solace and refreshment of His trembling child. He gave, moreover, into her hands a solemn charge—to help fellow-pilgrims along the road, filling her life with blessed interest, and healing her own deep sorrow by giving her power to relieve and comfort others.
Please pray for me and yourselves as well, that God’s strength would be abundantly displayed through our weaknesses. Let us anticipate how our Lord will give us success to spare…enough for our own difficulties, with an overflow to help others also.
“in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
That’s Success To Spare!
I would love to hear how God has strengthened you in your weakness, if you'd like to leave a comment below...