Learning to Love in New Ways

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In losing my grandmother to Alzheimer’s Disease, I was forced to learn how to love her in new ways.  I learned how to love her in the midst of her life changing and how to honor her in her stages of dying, even though she would never know it.

You see, God created each one of us, everyone, in his image (Gen 1:27).  We are all image-bearers.  As such, I believe we are called to honor life, even when it no longer looks like what we expect. I had to learn to love and cherish my grandmother in the midst of this trial.

She didn’t always know who I was, but she would light up when I told her I loved her.

Sometimes in life, we meet unexpected challenges.  We are called to live fully in the midst of a situation that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.  Well, I never would have chosen this for my grandmother.  Who would?

And yet, I had to learn to grow and love her even when she couldn’t return my love in a way that was meaningful to me.  I had to learn the new meaningful ways that she returned my love.

I had to learn how to trust God in the midst of this and learn what it means to honor her and continue to visit her and hold her hand and kiss her, when she wasn’t the same person.

Some people think that after a while, the person affected by Alzheimer’s isn’t the same person.  I disagree.  She is still the same person that God created her to be.  This was just the ending of her life that we didn’t know.  She still bore his image and had the breath of life in her.  And so she was still a person, still human, still my grandmother.  She was still someone God had called me to continue loving.

I learned to love her in new ways.  Yes, it broke my heart to tell her stories about my life that she couldn’t enjoy or be a part of.  It hurt to move away for four years, then to return for marriage, only to have to make the decision not to have her come to my wedding.  We knew it would be too confusing for her and hard on her.

It broke my heart, but I knew it was what she needed.  I had to put her own needs ahead of my own.

And so I visited her.  I went when I could.  I loved her by holding her hand. By looking her in the eyes.  By telling her I loved her.  By kissing her even when she hadn’t been well-cleaned after a meal.  By singing songs to her, praying with her and for her, reading the Bible to her, and even practicing my Bible Study talks on her.  She was a great listener!

Of course, sometimes she would fall asleep during my talks or drift off.  I didn’t take it personally, because I never expected her to be able to listen or follow or hear or understand.  But I wanted to include her in my life, as best I could.  I wanted her to know that she was loved, that she had value, that she had worth, that she was still worthy of my love, because she was still alive.  She loved me for so many years, and I wanted to continue to love her, even if she wouldn’t know it was me that was the one loving her.

What mattered was that I continued to treat her as a woman, created in God’s image, a woman who loved me from my birth, and yet was lying in a bed, sick, hurting, and needing to be loved, even though she couldn’t return it quite like she used to.  God taught me to love her in new ways, and for that, I am thankful.

(Today, May 24, would have been her 83rd birthday. We thank God for her life.)

Do you have a story of having to learn to love someone in new ways?  I’d love for you to share it.

If you liked this post, read the related post: Victims of a Vicious Monster.

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12 thoughts on “Learning to Love in New Ways

  1. That is such a gift, for both you and your grandmother! I worked as a hospice social worker before and I was often saddened by how family treated their loved one with Alzheimer’s. They are still people worthy of love and respect, no matter what.

  2. What a sweet message Keeley. As she would always say…lucky lucky Nonnie!!
    We all miss her and wish she were here to celebrate her birthday. Her memory will always be with us. She was loved dearly in many many ways by many many people.

  3. Keeley…oh my goodness, i just need more of you in my life! Seriously – it is all about perspective in many ways – Nonnie was precious and very loved for her kind spirit – thank you for your insight!

  4. What a beautiful tribute to Nonnie’s, well lived life. Most grandchildren are not mature like you, to return the love, when obstacles as big as Alzheimer stand between you.
    The trial you watched, will be used many fold in your ministry, & in your life.

    love you, Keeley
    Harriet Deison

    • Thanks Harriet, as I said at her burial, she showed me first-hand how to love like this. I’ve wrote a piece lamenting my inability to love my great-grandmother, Nana, in this way, but also pointing to how Nonnie selflessly loved her. Through that, Nonnie taught me how to love people even when they’re not the same.

  5. Her birthday was such a special day for you to celebrate her life once again. She is certainly still in our hearts, thoughts and lives. I am reminded daily of things she liked, things she said or things she did. She will remain with me always.