I went on retreat 8 years ago during a difficult time of coping with my wife’s journey with young onset Alzheimer’s. I felt drawn to write this story based on Jacob’s wrestling with the angel from the Old Testament. It has given me a sense of purpose and coherence. As you will see, I anticipate that it will continue to serve as my wife approaches her eventual death. (She has been in hospice now for the past 16 months).
This is longer than most blog posts. But, I hope it will serve as an invitation to use sacred story as a vehicle to transform suffering and pain in your own life.
Somewhere along my journey, I became aware that angels of God were accompanying me. I saw the angels and knew that I belonged to God.
Well into my travels, messengers came to tell me, “Alzheimer’s is coming to meet you and he brings death to Julie, your wife, and great pain and suffering to you, your family, and friends.”
At first, I felt as if God was telling me, “Do not be afraid, this will be a holy experience for you and Julie, and a gift and a blessing to many others.” Almost immediately, that began to happen. Julie and I were frequently invited to tell our story, and it proved to be a source of hope for us, and inspiration and hope for others.
But Julie’s health began to deteriorate and I became afraid and distressed. And I prayed, “O God of my fathers, Norm, Walt, and Christian, I want to remind you that you said this would be a holy experience and a gift and a blessing. It no longer feels that way. Deliver me please from the hand of Alzheimer’s, for I am afraid of what it will do to us.”
And as I continued on the journey, I found myself unwittingly out ahead of my family and friends – leading and loving them. I bowed in front of all kinds of Alzheimer’s challenges and honored them. Alzheimer’s in turn honored me, embracing, kissing, and weeping for me because of the pain to which he was subjecting me.
I said to Alzheimer’s, “Truly, to see your face is like seeing the face of God. You may well take all that I have – everything that I own. But, God has given me everything I need, and you can’t take that: community, family, friends, intimacy with God and friends, vulnerability, authenticity, powerlessness, brokenness, knowing that I am God’s beloved son in whom he is well pleased, finding my own voice, finding my own identity, interior freedom, meaning and purpose, and a rich interior and spiritual life.”
Then Alzheimer’s said, “Let us journey on our way together.” And I replied, “Julie is frail and walks slowly and my family, friends, and I are weary from our struggles with you. You go on ahead and we will travel at the pace at which we are capable.”
Further along the journey, I encountered the dark night, and I found myself all alone. And Alzheimer’s came and wrestled with me until Julie died. And there was great wailing, moaning, and grieving, followed by a great silence….
And I still continued to wrestle with Alzheimer’s. When Alzheimer’s saw that he could not prevail against me, he struck me on the hip socket and my hip was put out of joint.
Then Alzheimer’s said to me, “Let me go, for I have taken Julie and it is time for me to move on.” But I said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Alzheimer’s replied, “You shall no longer be called ‘Tom”, but rather, “wounded healer”. The wound you have endured at my hand has made you whole. And then Alzheimer’s blessed me.
So, I called this encounter “holy”, as I said, “For I have seen God face to face in this disease and yet my life has been preserved.”
A new day came after Julie’s death and the sun rose on me as I moved forward with my life, now limping because of my hip – moving forward as a wounded healer, bringing a message to a world in need of all that I had learned.