Everybody lives by faith. Mine started with my parents: from childhood I learned from them about a God who loved each of us personally. At the same time He was the Almighty Creator who was in control of everything – ‘Our Father in heaven’.That had given a very secure framework for my life. There were the two sides of God’s character – a loving and dependable Father who is also all-powerful. Whatever happens is under His control, even when we don’t understand how. As I grew, I had personally experienced God’s love, expressed above all in Jesus. Shoko and I had talked about it together, discussed with people of different views, supported others in difficult situations.But now? How did it look in the face of Shoko’s Alzheimer's? Could it deal with my feelings of inadequacy, failure and doubt, as I struggled to look after her? Could it make sense of this senseless disease that seemed to be stealing personality and identity, threatening to end communication?‘Now it has come to you … and you are dismayed,’ said Job’s friends in the familiar Old Testament story (Job 4:5).
I couldn’t compare myself with Job’s extraordinary suffering. But I knew I was finding it difficult and disturbing. How long would this go on? Why was I finding it so hard? It wasn’t so much ‘Why me?’, but it was definitely ‘Poor me’.At my sister’s suggestion I had begun regular meetings with our vicar, who was a close personal friend. We met every three weeks and I could share my feelings very openly with him. He listened patiently, encouraged me, and referred me back to the truths of the Bible. Two things stood out for me:Who is with us when we suffer? We ask ‘Why?’, but we may never find the answer. Perhaps ‘Who?’ is a better question. The Gospel says that we are not alone, because God is with us. When Jesus came into our world it meant that God came right down to our level and suffered along with us.Where is our hope? Our daughter had found it very sad that her mother was not the same as before. ‘Yes,’ the vicar said, ‘Shoko is not as she was, and not as she will be.’ He was referring to the hope of new life beyond this life, because of our relationship with God, who is alive and gives us life. ‘He is not God of the dead, but of the living’ said Jesus (Mark 12:27). And he himself rose from death to confirm that, promising, ‘I will come again and take you to be with me’ (John 14:1-3).At the same time that I was hearing these words, both Shoko and I were being supported by a community of love and friendship that powerfully confirmed their truth.Alzheimer's had not gone away. It was still senseless. But we could see through and beyond it: the real person was still there and would continue, in loving relationship with God. That gave faith to go on loving and to go on communicating.
I was amazed and grateful that despite all my failings Shoko continued to express her love to me, right to the end. Looking back, and learning more of others’ stories, I realise how privileged I was. Many have apparently lost their ability to communicate. That is so hard and I am not sure how I would have responded if it had happened to us.