Sunday, June 03, 2018

Lessons from Caregiving #4: Remembering

(This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2., and #3)

I suppose it's not surprising that being a caregiver for someone with dementia involves learning lessons about remembering. I've learned so much about the power of habit, about how memory and the brain works, about emotions and music. And surprisingly, I've learned a few lessons about not remembering as well. This post is kind of a hodge-podge of those lessons.

One of the first things I learned in my "caregiver basic training" was that the last type of memory to go is music memory, What this means is that we can still connect with our loved ones through music often up until the very end. I see this in my sweet husband, when he is having a more quiet day struggling to find words but comes alive to favorite songs. He likes a variety of music, but the most meaningful to him is various types of worship music. I've learned from this about the power of music to speak to the soul, and to ask myself if the music that I listen to the most will connect my soul to my Creator in ways my words may not be able to.

I've also learned that emotional memory never leaves. It also means that even if they don't recall a name or recognize someone in context of a relationship, the emotional memory associated with that person never leaves them. I've learned to ask myself, not just with my husband but in every relationship, what kind of seeds am I sowing to build the emotional memory I want to be associated with me?

I've also learned about the power of habit. Habitual actions literally form "ruts" in the brain, so when parts of the brain don't function effectively to recall short-term memory or learn new things, the "ruts" still function. It's literally like the process of developing the roads in our country during Westward expansion. One wagon train after another followed the same ruts, which eventually became more permanent roads and railroads. I've seen in my husband the daily habit of quiet time continue, even as he struggles to understand the words he reads or how to pray. I even see the power of his positive attitude as a lifelong habit. While he has definitely had his struggles over the years, like all of us, at his core he is a die-hard optimist. His team is always going to win, the weather is always going to be fine, etc. I am convinced this habit is one reason that he has maintained an overall much more positive attitude than many dementia patients. I've learned to ask myself, what habits do I need to develop now that will carry me through when my flesh fails me later in life?

I've learned some things about forgetting as well. I've learned that his memories aren't truly "gone", he just has failures in accessing them. Since his short-term and new memory centers are heavily affected, he often forgets things as soon as they happen. I've learned this isn't necessarily bad! It is a literal picture of "keeping short accounts" and not keeping a record of wrongs. I have prayed for him to remember things, but I've definitely prayed that he would forget some things as well - like a bad day, or that time I snapped at him, or my tears that he couldn't understand. As I have prayed this, I've sensed God using that to teach me that I can learn to let go of things that I tend to hold on to as well, building my "long-term spiritual memory" with the things that matter most.

All of this has spurred me to look at what Scripture says about "remembering".  One of the things I'm learning is that for the believer, remembering is an intentional act. We don't just go through life, hoping that at the right moment we remember the right thing. We work at it, plan for it, train our minds for it.

I'm convinced that one reason God calls His followers to worship together in community is that we are not meant to be alone (Genesis 2:18, the only thing "not good" about creation was Adam being alone). And for that reason, He has ordained that there are spiritual things that happen when we are together that simply don't happen when we are alone. Today was one of those days for me - I thought I was fine, then we got in the prayer circle before church and I was a ball of tears. I ran PowerPoint throughout the service with tears streaming down my face. And God had a special word for me in the message.

One of the spiritual things that happens when we gather is the building up of faith that occurs as we hear the Word of God preached. In the millisecond it takes to go from our pastor's lips to our ears, the Holy Spirit does something with those words that just reading them on the page doesn't do. Sometimes that is something that just strengthens and encourages. Other times, it is something that challenges and stretches us. In the South, we call that "stepping on our toes." It's those days when it feels like my pastor has been listening in on my quiet times that I know God is really shaking me up. Today was one of those days.

He spoke from Acts 3 about the importance of expectancy as we look toward God. How it is equivalent to faith. How we can't give up, even when it feels Jesus has passed us by. How it's within His will and His timing, and may look different than we think, but we keep expecting, even just a little, because that's better than not expecting at all.

I leaned forward, knowing instantly that God was speaking to me, because frankly, I had quit expecting. Quit hoping. Quit looking for anything but the next heartbreaking reality. All afternoon, I wrestled with this truth: "Expectancy is faith." I told God I wanted to get there but didn't know how.

And then I sat down to finally write this blog post I've had on my mind for weeks, and came across this nugget in the Dictionary of Bible Themes: "Remembering should produce hope for the future".

I need hope. So I need to remember. That takes intention. I get to choose what I call to my mind. I'm not going to just let it be a blank slate that Satan and the world can fill. By God's grace, I will remember His goodness. His character. His mighty works. His truth. I will call it to mind, and build hope within my soul. I want to develop the habit of hope, so I will remember.

Lamentations 3:21-24 NET - (21) But this I call to mind; therefore I have hope: (22) The LORD's loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end. (23) They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! (24) "My portion is the Lord," I have said to myself, so I will put my hope in him.

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