My friend Bill was staying in a motel just outside of New York City, when he noticed a rash on both ankles. He had seen news reports on Television about the bedbug infestation in hotels and motels across America, and he knew his rash was from those nasty creatures. He was angry at the Motel and went to the counter and let them have it with both barrels. “By God, it’s your responsibility to keep your rooms clean from vermin like that!” he said. “You’ll be getting a bill for all of my expenses, medical, cleaning, ruined clothing, and luggage.” “But sir, we have our rooms inspected on a regular basis,” the Manager told him, “I will call the exterminators and…“ “Look, Sweetheart,” he interrupted, “You do whatever it takes to clean up this dump, but if you don’t pay my bill when I send it you will hear from my lawyer.” He stormed out of the Motel and took a cab to the airport.
After catching a flight home to Atlanta, he took his luggage, dumped it all in his driveway, doused the pile with gas, and torched his clothes, suitcases, and all the bed bugs. After using over the counter medications, on the rash, for about a week, he went to his doctor. The doctor took one look and said, “This rash is from poison ivy.”
Poor Bill, he knew some facts, there was a problem with bedbugs in Motels and Hotels across America. That was true. He also knew that bedbugs usually bite on people’s ankles and he had a rash on his ankles. All true. However, once he lost his temper and was on the emotional rollercoaster, facts and error combined to turn Bill into an irrational man. He wouldn’t listen to the manager, nor did he care about an alternative explanation of what was happening. At that moment he was walking in the dark.
For the past three weeks we’ve been looking at the dangers, difficulties, fears and failures that we face when we walk in the dark. After thinking about this I believe that there is a solution for those of us who cannot see what to do or where to go. I want to conclude this series by speaking about how and where we can find the light to live by.
How often I am like Bill, allowing my emotions to carry me to a very dark and dangerous place. I have some facts about how husbands and wives are to act toward each other. Respect, love, sex, fun, and compassion are all a part of this equation. I do not expect someone who loves me to be indifferent or hostile about things that I find important. However, there is something else I know. Harriet has Frontotemporal Dementia, which is causing brain damage. This is where things get complicated and the darkness settle in. When I feel neglected, disrespected, angry, frustrated, unfulfilled, and fearful what will help me rise above the emotions so I can walk in the light?
- The truth or the Facts of the matter bring light. – As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say, on the TV show Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
Imagine Bill walking down the hall towards the reception Desk and his doctor is coming up the hall towards him. “Bill, how are you this fine morning?” “Well, Doc, I’m mad as hell! This five-star Motel we’re staying in has Bed Bugs.” “Are you sure Bill, how do you know?” Bill bends over and rolls up his pant leg. “Look at this rash Doc, it’s on both ankles. What else would cause this except bedbug bites.” “Bill, that rash isn’t from bed bugs, it from poison Ivy.” Suddenly the light of the truth comes on and Bill’s anger is gone. Now Bill won’t be rude to the Motel Manager nor will he pour gasoline on his clothes, and luggage and burn them to ashes. (And I wouldn’t have a funny story to tell you.)
Facts are: FTD, and any other type of Dementia, causes irreversible brain damage. This causes people to behave in ways that they never would have if the dementia hadn’t overtaken them. If I get angry because of Harriet’s indifference, hostile, self-centered, or just outright rude and demeaning behavior, I must remember the facts of FTD. Her behavior is because of her brain damage not because she doesn’t love me.
I can take a ride on the emotional roller-coaster if I want to. Here’s what happens to me when I jump on the rollercoaster. It starts out with an impossible conversation in my head;” I’m going to say THIS, and she’ll say THAT, and then I’ll…” this angry conversation may be on my mind for hours which causes my blood pressure to skyrocket. Then something happens, I drop my ink pen and it’s, WAR, I will use every curse word I know. At which point, my dog will act afraid of me and I will feel like a complete JERK and realize there’s nothing constructive that can be done because Harriet has brain damage. Any discussion or confrontation about her behavior will only cause her to feel hurt, angry, defensive, and misunderstood. Teepa Snow says, “Your loved one has brain damage, but you behave like you do.”
- Unresolved relational problems bring darkness.
Here is another FACT to consider: A lot of Caregivers act irrationally angry because of unresolved conflicts that happened way before the diagnosis of dementia. If you’re in a relationship where there has been infidelity, and/or verbal, mental, or physical abuse, that has never been resolved, the bad behavior from the dementia is going to push all the wrong buttons. You’ve had this impossible conversation running in your head for years. But now, when you bring up your concerns, your LOWD cannot follow your argument and thinks you’re only trying to cause trouble.
I hear this all the time in different support groups. “I was seeing a lawyer about getting a divorce and then found out he or she has Dementia.” If there ever was a time to deal with these problems, it is long gone. If depression comes because of anger turned inward, it’s no wonder that the darkness of depression continues to settle in my mind. How can I get out of this cycle of frustration, anger, depression?
- I need spiritual help to see in the dark.
I became a follower of Jesus the Christ when I was around twenty-five years old. Because of this, I am never totally in the dark, except for the times I ignore his teachings and walk away from Him. Jesus said, “I have come as light into the world that whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness.” John 12:46 In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world. Matthew 5:14. What does it mean for Jesus to say, “I am the light” and then to tell us, “You are the light of the world”? In Neil Diamond’s song, Play Me, he sings, “I am the sun you are the moon I am the words you are the tune, play me.” Jesus is the Sun and we are the moon that reflects the light he brings into this dark world. However, when I turn away from him, reject his teaching as irrelevant, I am facing nothing but darkness. However, when I turn my face to Jesus and take his word into my heart, I have hope. He is the sun I am the moon He is the word and my life provide the tune. Sometimes, my life takes his words as a lament, and we sing the blues. But there are times when his words bring love, hope, peace and joy and so we dance together singing the song that never ends.
Remember how Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation,” (heartache, disappointments, betrayal, sickness, etc.)? Well, here we are right in the middle of it. He also promised to take every horrible thing we go through and use it for our spiritual growth. That is, Harriet’s dementia will be used by Christ to make me a better person. However, that can only happen if I continue to walk with him, apply his teaching, and live a surrendered life. This is where one person said she was tired of my religious phyco-babble Bullshit! Let’s look at three examples from world war two to see if this is truth or just more bullshit.
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who worked with her family to help many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. They were arrested and sent to a concentration camp where her father died. Her book, The Hiding Place, tells about how she found hope during the imprisonment in the concentration camp. After her trial she and her sister Betsie were sent to Ravensbruck. A particularly cruel guard set his sights on Betsie, resulting in her death. Before she died Betsie said, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” After the war Corrie traveled around the world speaking about the hope that is found in Jesus. While in Germany, two men who were guards at Revensbruck approached her. She immediately recognized one as the guard who had been so cruel to Betsie. He spoke of his conversion to Christ and regrets for his behavior in the camp. Then he held out his hand to shake Corrie’s. She wanted to hit him, not forgive him, but in obedience to Christ she held out her hand. She said the moment that she began to put her hand forward, her bitterness toward him was replaced by love. One thing she learned in the concentration camps was how to live a surrendered life to Christ, and that made all the difference for her.
In his book, Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand writes about how he survived, months of solitary confinement, beatings and other forms of torture, brain-washing and mental cruelty, starvation and other types of privations while in prison, in Communist Romania. One example from the book that I cannot forget is, the time when Richard was returned to his cell after eight hours of torture. He began to pray and as he did so, the Holy Spirit filled him with such joy that the walls changed from drab gray and began to sparkle as gold, and he began to sing and dance with joy. The times of prayer were vital to his survival. He would pray giving all the horrors of this place to the Lord and the Lord would give him strength to face whatever the guards would throw at him. In fact, the lord filled his heart with love and compassion for those who were trying to break him, that he would treat them with kindness. It was his daily surrender to Christ, and His teachings that made it possible for him to survive the years he spent in the communist prisons.
Finally, did you read the book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand? (The movie Unbroken is excellent as well. Just make sure you watch the extra feature on the DVD that tells about his life after the war.) This is the true story of Louis “Louie” Silvie Zamperini, who competes as a runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Once America enters the war Louie joins the Airforce and serves as a bombardier. His plane crashes in the Pacific and after a long time on the raft he is picked up by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp. While there he is recognized as an Olympian by Mitsuhiro Watanabe, “the Bird,” who takes delight in singling Louie out for punishment. After the war Louie is tormented by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and turns to alcohol to cope. Night after night he would have nightmares of the Bird coming for him. One night he woke up to his wife screaming as he was trying to kill her in his sleep. He survived the war but the memories of what he went through were destroying his life. In a desperate attempt to save their marriage, His wife convinced him to go to a Billy Graham Crusade. He went twice, and both times, was angered by what Billy Graham said. The first night, He stormed out during the altar call. The second night He was, once again angrily leaving the tent, when Billy Graham said, “NO one should leave, this is a holy moment.” Suddenly Louie had a vision of himself on the raft in the middle of the Pacific praying and telling the Lord, “If you bring me through this alive, I will serve you for the rest of my life.” Instead of leaving he turned around and went to the front and surrendered his life to Christ. He went home and dumped all the booze down the drain. He never again had any nightmares about the Bird coming for him. Later he returned to Japan and went to the prison where the guards who were convicted of war crimes were kept. He had forgiven them but knew he really did when seeing them he felt love and compassion for them. Louie had a great life after the war only because he surrendered everything to Jesus.
Jesus said, “Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you. He who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of the light.” John 12:35b-36 When I turn away from Jesus and allow unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and rage to rule my life, I live in such a dark place of despair. When I take his word about blessing, prayer, love for others and apply them to my situation, I find the light I need to continue for another day. Now is not the time to turn away from my Lord and Savior, rather, it is the time to run into his open arms and receive the strength I need for today. I pray that all of us, who are caregivers, will daily receive everything we need to walk through this dark time.
Please continue to pray for us and be sure that we will be praying for you.