Amish Principles for Today's Families
1/18/12 at 10:31 AM 0 Comments

Plain Talk about the Amish: Coping with Alzheimer's

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This is a story I wrote a few years ago about my dear dad. He passed away on January 1st, just as the sun rose on 2012.   

"Before we can pray 'Thy Kingdom come,' we must pray 'My kingdom go'."

Amish Proverb

It is a blistering hot June evening and I am stuck in a traffic jam, retrieving my dad from his latest escapade after receiving a call from the police with his whereabouts. My dad is in the mid-stages of Alzheimer's disease. He has a knack of finding ways to sneak out of his board and care facility, hitchhike with strangers, and end up in unusual places. Today, it is a Wal-Mart, thirty minutes away.

(C) Bill Coleman/amishphoto.com

I feel enormously relieved that Dad is safe. These escapes have been frightening. For me, not for Dad. He is unconcerned about the panic he creates. He has already forgotten it. He doesn't know my name, but he does like to point out which road I should take and when to turn, often encouraging me to sail through red lights. Dad's directions are dangerous. He's always wrong but never in doubt.

As my car crawls along the freeway, resentment starts bubbling over. My day has already been overloaded. My college kids had just arrived home for the summer, and I was hoping to prepare a special family dinner. I hadn't been able to snag any time to write that day; my mind was still preoccupied with a looming deadline. And now the day is wrapping up with Dad's breakout.

The consuming requirements of my dad's illness have been creating a growing frustration. Obligations to him always seem to come at the worst moment, forcing me to push aside my own family's needs. My dad, who was always a delightful person, has become an enormous inconvenience. And as his disease marches forward, it's only going to get worse.

(C) Bill Coleman/amishphoto.com

My mind drifts to the Amish. When I visited Amish communities, I asked many how they handled a relative with Alzheimer's. Without exception, they replied that they took care of their elderly at home. Granted, they have enormous families who live locally and share the caregiving role. Even with support, Alzheimer's is no cakewalk. One Amish woman cared for her mother for seven years. Another was up in the night, changing bedsheets for her mother, every forty-five minutes for over a year. But I never detected a hint of self-pity as these women shared their stories with me. "It's just what we do," they said, as if that explained everything—their patience, their kindness, their dedication.

These women believe that all of life's circumstances are given by God, good ones as well as hard ones. Even Alzheimer's. They yield to things out of their control. They don't struggle and fight against them, like I do.

So as my car idles in that traffic jam, I wonder how those two Amish women might handle this exasperating situation. I know, I know; they wouldn't be in a car, they would be in a buggy. I mean the yielding part, the interior repose that works to align itself with the mind of Christ.

I can imagine them saying that it is my time to give back to my father for all he has done for me. That there are things I will be learning in this experience, marathon that it is. They would point out that it is an opportunity for me to develop and express a selfless love. And they would remind me that my father, even in his condition, matters to God. His soul is intact even as his mind is fading.

An entirely unexpected thing happens as I ponder the imaginary conversation of my Amish ladies, spouting their wisdom to me. Sweet memories pop into my mind of Dad in his better days . . . dropping by my house on a hot summer day with popsicles for my children, helping us paint after we remodeled the house. Or when he encouraged me, as a teen, to attend a private college although the tuition bill would create personal hardship for him.

As these memories displace my frustration, I feel the traffic-jam stress dissipate. In its place is a tender patience for Dad, just as he is. I actually feel calmer, more relaxed, more open to God's way of thinking, though my circumstances have not changed one iota. The traffic is just as bad and the sun is even worse—it has intensified its glare directly onto my windshield like a magnifying glass. When I stop struggling against my circumstances, I actually feel benefits. What might seem on the surface a hopeless surrender, white flag raised, becomes transformed into the powerful mystery of yielding.

If there is one thing I have learned through my study of the Amish, it is that taking my sticky fingers off of the controls and yielding to God is a good thing, a wonderful thing. It's not passive, it's hard work! And it takes practice. But through the example of my Amish friends—whose lives are embroidered with daily reminders of their dependence on God—I am learning to trust God in a more meaningful way.

And on the heels of yielding comes the peace of Christ.

This story was originally titled, "Sticky Fingers" and was excerpted with permission from "Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World" (Revell Books, 2009).

About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Why the Amish? Well, Suzanne's
grandfather was raised Plain. She's always been fascinated by her gentle,
wise relatives. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her
weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. Please subscribe to this blog and consider leaving a comment!

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