Archive for the ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ Tag

Death and Butterflies

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through to achieve that beauty.  ~Maya Angelou

My mother-in-law, Joan Kuhlman, passed away a few weeks ago from Alzheimer’s disease.  A beautiful butterfly wreath adorned her door at the nursing home during her last day of life, most likely to make the staff aware that a resident was dying.  The motif of butterflies reappeared in the lovely floral casket spray, without our special request.  Because this symbol of rebirth kept coming up, the beauty of butterflies and their vision of hope made me reflect on death as a change of life rather than an end of life.

Death is a journey into the unknown, and although reports of those who have died and were brought back to life seem encouraging, it truly is the “final frontier.”  There is one, however, who took our mortality with him into death and then came through it, holding tightly to our hands:

                        Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?  It was sin that made death so frightening

and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power.  But now in a

single victorious stroke of Life, all three– sin, guilt, death– are gone, the gift of

our Master Jesus Christ.  Thank God! (I Cor. 15:55, The Message)

When Christ entered death as the Son of God in the flesh, he took our humanity with him.  Through death, he purged our collective human nature of its sin and gave us all eternal life.  Many enjoy the knowledge and experience of this gift now; others will hopefully enjoy it in the future.

The life cycle of the butterfly is a useful illustration for us to consider.  Although no analogy is perfect, the idea is probably pretty accurate that our human life now is like that of a caterpillar, growing yet limited.  The idea of death as a cocoon reminds me of Christ’s three days in the tomb, and the emergence of a butterfly reveals the promise of resurrection to a life of glory.  Maya Angelou’s quote sums up what we often think about death, that we don’t want to admit or acknowledge until it lands in our laps that it is indeed a natural part of our life cycle process.  This part of our life cycle has its mysteries and its gruesomeness, much like the process of birth into life.  Without this change, this time spent in a cocoon, there would be no butterflies.

Throughout her extended illness, the only thing our family wished was for Joan to be healed of this disease and for her to be restored to her normal personality.  It was something we hoped and prayed for, yet in some respects, we were wishing for her to stay a “caterpillar.”  We are certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus Christ was with Joan in her cocoon, and just as certain that he will be in ours, too. For her, Alzheimer’s disease was an extended cocoon through which Joan, in her full glory, would emerge, more whole, well, and beautiful than we ever knew.

~by Nan Kuhlman

Being Truly Seen

This is a picture of my father-in-law and mother-in-law, George and Joan Kuhlman, taken around 1958 when they were in their 20s.   George passed away in December 2009, and Joan is now in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Shortly after George’s funeral, I had to take Joan to the Social Security office to register her for widow’s benefits.  After we were finished and I was taking her back to the assisted living facility, she said, “And he was such a young guy,” shaking her head sadly.

“Are you talking about George?” I asked.  She nodded her head yes.  “Well, he was 77,” I reminded her.  She shrugged her shoulders and looked out the car window.  Although at first I thought her comment was due to her affliction with Alzheimer’s, I realized later that what she said was true.

Her comment struck me because after 50 years of marriage, her memory of George was as a young man.  She didn’t see how he had aged, and how age made it almost impossible for him to walk. She saw him as he truly was at his most vibrant and happy self, unencumbered by the effects of aging.

I can now understand how my mother-in-law would think of her 77-year-old husband as “just a young guy.”  I know that after only 25 years of marriage, I still remember my husband as he looked on our wedding day.  Fortunately, he still sees me as I was 25 years ago, too.

This is a gift, I believe, that the Triune God shares with us in any long-term relationship we have on earth, whether it is marriage, family, or friendship.  The Father, Son, and Spirit see us at our best, most vibrant selves, and the aging process of our bodies does nothing to diminish our value in their sight.

This makes me think of the story of Samuel and his search for the man God had chosen to replace Saul as king of Israel.  Samuel took one look at Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and thought he was the one.  But God had a different idea:

            “Looks aren’t everything.  Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature.  I’ve already eliminated him.  God judges persons differently than humans do.  Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart” (The Message, I Samuel 16:7).

The Triune God sees us at our deepest and most authentic and shares this ability with those people who choose to be a part of our life’s journey for the long haul.  The Father, Son, and Spirit know us on the inside, and any change that occurs on the outside is inconsequential to who we are at our core.  That is why my mother-in-law referred to her late 77-year-old husband as a “young guy.”  When we are committed to a relationship, we are blessed with the Triune God’s ability to look into another’s heart and truly see them for who they are.

                        ~by Nan Kuhlman

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