October 1, 2019

“…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4, NIV 1984).

I try to visit her twice a week, but sometimes only make it once. My mom is suffering from severe dementia and requires round-the-clock attendants. She can barely carry on a conversation and, when she does, it is often like, “I haven’t seen Mother in a while. How is she doing?” … with her own mother gone for 30 years; or, “Where is Bud?” … about our dad, who has been with the Lord for four years. My goal when I visit is to bring a moment of joy into her mental chaos, to produce a smile or a bit of laughter, even if she doesn’t understand.

Dementia is tragic for those whose minds are caught in its confusion, and it’s tragic for those who care for loved ones so trapped. Dementia is terrible, but we must not give dementia more credit than is due. Dementia is terrible, but:

Dementia does not negate the life that preceded it. Long years of joys and relationships and love are not erased by a few years of dementia.

Dementia does not negate the value of those within its grasp. We are confused if we think people have value because they are beautiful, or educated, or rich, or clear minded. As William Sloan Coffin reminds us, “God’s love does not seek value, it creates it. It is not because we have value that we are loved. It is because we are loved that we have value.” My mother’s value is linked to a love from which she cannot be separated (Romans 8:38-39).

Dementia does not negate God’s purpose for the lives of those who are trapped in its dark cave. As long as we live on this side of heaven, God’s purpose will work through our lives, however debilitated we might be. I don’t know what other purposes God might have imbedded in my mother’s suffering, but I do know He has changed my character and my faith for the better by my caring for Mom.

Dementia cannot frighten away the Christ who walks beside the ones who have chosen Him. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b, NIV 1984).

Dementia cannot prevent the victory to come. We will one day all be whole—my mom will laugh and love again coherently when “the old order of things has passed away.”

Dear Father,
Thank You that You are with each of us, regardless of our mental capacities. Give us strength to care for those with dementia and strength to weather our own…for Your glory.

Al Weir, MD

Al Weir, MD

After leaving academic medicine, Dr. Weir served in private practice at the West Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee from 1991-2005 before joining the CMDA staff as Vice President of Campus & Community Ministries where he served for three years from 2005-2008. He is presently Professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Program Director for the Hematology/Oncology fellowship program. He is also President of Albanian Health Fund, an educational ministry to Albania where he has been serving for 20 years. He is the author of two books: When Your Doctor Has Bad News and Practice by the Book. Dr. Weir’s work has also been published in many medical journals and other publications. Al and his wife Becky live in Memphis, Tennessee, and they have three children and three grandchildren. Dr. Weir is currently serving on CMDA's Board of Trustees.