by Tom Allen.
February 10 is Ash Wednesday. It is the day on which Christians remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. To be an Alzheimer’s care giver demands finding life while sitting in the ashes.
I helped Julie change her clothes. She had on 2 bras and 2 pairs of pants that she had been wearing all day. It was confusing to her whether she ought to be putting on a third bra or taking one off. And somehow, all of her underpants have gone missing. I am convinced that someday they are going to knock down this group home and find some huge hole in which residents have been hiding things for the past 30 years.
Whenever I get a call at 8:00 a.m. my heart skips a beat. So often it’s the group home calling with some kind of challenge. Last weekend, staff found Julie sitting on the bathroom floor looking very ashen, weak, and shaky. This weekend, she fell down the stairs, hit her head and hurt her back. Bee stings, seizure like activity, anxiety attacks, swollen ankles, weight gain, falls. We have covered the water front.
The effects of the disease on one of the residents is such that she wanders all day from room to room, finding things that attract her and moving them somewhere else, sometimes the toilet. During a recent visit by my granddaughter, this resident noticed my granddaughter’s coat and took off with it. “Thank you so much for finding it” I say to her as I attempt to regain possession.
So many ashes. And then, in the span of a breath, the Cosmic Christ is revealed. This Christ that comes from the edges of an expanding universe, to be with me, from billions of light years away. This Christ sitting in front of me, who though carrying the Divine within, emptied and humbled herself, taking the form of a person with Alzheimer’s, to be my loving partner of 43 years.
Tom is a spiritual director at Loyola. Read his bio.