“Acutely senile in six months!” The terrible words rang in my ears, bounced off the walls of my mind and echoed through the canyons of my soul. Dr. Evers thrust long sheets of jagged lines before me, proof of my narrowing arteries, the build-up of plaque, the lack of healthy blood flow to the brain, the probability all this would soon affect my mind. I was 47 years old.
A rush of memories overwhelmed me.
Three Known Generations
I had watched the rapid deterioration of my beloved grandfather at age 52. I listened to his endless repetitions, saw him neglect daily farm chores to move a pile of hay from one spot to another for no apparent reason. He, who had spent his life trying to bring a smile to my grandmother’s face, fought her every attempt to ease his downward spiral. When he attacked her with a knife for denying him the keys to the car, Mother committed him to an asylum.
Haunted by what she had done to her father, Mother lived in fear that the same fate would befall her. At 65 she started repeating senseless questions and her behavior became increasingly bizarre. She bought a car she didn't need. She gave away large sums of money to unknown ministries. She hallucinated, seeing people where there were none, imagining they meant to harm her.
Both my great grandparents had lost their minds before they died. People called them crazy in those days. Now the dreaded disease had a name. Alzheimer's. There was no known cure. Three known generations. Would I be the fourth?
My Children Must Be Spared
I had brought my mother to the Cottonwood Health Clinic in Dothan, Alabama at the urging of a friend who had known Dr. Evers for years. She looked upon him with awe and respect, convinced of his integrity and exceptional care of his patients. On the cutting edge of alternative medicine, he had helped patients with heart problems, lymphomas and cancer. His chelation treatments, injecting large amounts of a proprietary combination of vitamins directly into the blood stream, helped even some with degenerative diseases.
The doctor had ordered a series of tests for Mother and, stressing the strong hereditary tendency, urged me to take them as well. As he explained the results to me, he said, “The treatments may help your mother, but they are urgent for you.” Stunned by his diagnosis, I hastily agreed to join mother in taking the treatments.
I fled his office, but the horror of his revelation followed me. The evil one hurled unwanted thoughts at me like a knife-thrower pinning his victim to the wall. “There's nothing you can do.” “Your husband will recoil from you.” The chaos focused on one certainty. “My children must never know.” Somehow they must be spared the dreadful fear that they carried the Alzheimer's gene.
Fear, My Constant Companion
As for me, fear packed its bags and moved in to stay. Taking up residence, it was ever present to remind me of my predicted fate.
Mother and I took intravenous transfusions for six weeks. We sat long hours as the doctor's formula flowed directly into our veins, flushing out calcium, toxic metals and harmful chemicals thought to induce degenerative diseases. I looked in vain for changes in Mother. Her speech improved somewhat but the downward spiral continued.
When we left the clinic, fear traveled with us. Terror that I was next in line woke me at night and became my constant daytime companion. At the mention of the future, my mouth turned dry and my stomach knotted.
I sought the Lord, praying for strength to face the future. I devoured the scriptures. Clearly, fear was inconsistent with faith. “Lord, show me how to overcome anxiety and live every day triumphantly!” I found comfort in the Psalms, which spoke again and again of God's loving kindness. I began to see my heavenly Father as one who wanted to shower me with kindness, joy and mercy.
Blessings Can Be Passed From Generation to Generation
One morning sitting before the Lord, I heard in my mind, “My peace I give to you.” I had been worrying again. Worry would not add a day to my life. More likely, it would bring the disease on sooner.
The Holy Spirit led me to Ephesians 1:3, which told me that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. According to the footnote, “spiritual blessing refers to divine privileges and resources available now.” Certainly I was in need of those. I started a study on the word 'blessing' and learned that God wanted to bless Abraham and make him a blessing to others. In addition to material blessings, God wanted to prosper him spiritually, emotionally, and physically. In Galatians God promised to give all believers the blessings of Abraham. Such blessings had not died with the Hebrew leaders. They were available still.
The Old Testament highlighted the longing of God's heart to bless His people: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear Me, and keep all My commands always, that it might go well with them and their children forever.” (Deut. 5:29) I saw that God's desire is to pass on blessings--not illness--from one generation to another.
When God brought His people to the Promised Land, He told them of the blessings that would be theirs if they obeyed His commandments (Deut. 28). He encouraged them to be faithful and to choose the abundant life He wanted to provide for them. He sent Jesus that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
I told my heavenly Father that I chose life and asked Him to help me find it.
Our Hope Is The Cross
As I prayed, “Deliver me from this evil,” I read that Jesus came to set us free from fear. He took all our sins and sicknesses upon His own body and paid the price for them, that we might receive everything that was due Him as the Son of God. On the cross God treated Jesus like rebellious men and women deserved to be treated, so that He could treat us like Jesus deserves to be treated. Our hope is founded on the great exchange on the cross.
My study convinced me that I did not have to expect Alzheimer’s to overcome me. The remedy for all problems is forever the same: obey God’s commandments and appropriate what Jesus accomplished on the cross when He took all our sins and diseases upon himself.
Freedom From Fear
Nonetheless two years after Dr. Evers' pronouncement, fear still plagued me. Mother's continuing deterioration was ever before me, but I held tenaciously to the hope of future blessings for our family.
As I studied the blessings promised in Deuteronomy 28, I realized there was nothing I could do to deserve His blessings, it was a matter of grace. Unmerited blessing, unmerited favor, that’s what grace is. Like Ezekial, Jeremiah and John, I ate His word and His promises and they tasted sweet. What I did know was that Jesus had taken both my diagnosed illness and my fear upon Himself; therefore, I did not have to bear them. Because of His perfect work on the cross, my children and grandchildren could receive His grace and live free of the fear that haunted me.
When all this had been absorbed into my spirit, I met a couple who had prayed with others who suffered from generational problems. I shared with them my journey of discovery and told them how eager I was to find a fruitful future for myself so that my children would be spared the terrible fear I was now experiencing. They said that Jesus had already done the work and encouraged me to believe that the possibilities found in God are more than we can conceive. After inviting God's Spirit to guide us, they prayed with quiet confidence to release me from the ungodly fear that had been my unrelenting companion. They asked me to accept my release on the basis of what Jesus had done for me on the cross. As I prayed, fear left me.
The good news that there is hope in desperate situations became real to me that day and it has persisted. My children have not had to watch my deterioration nor to fear for their futures. Instead we rejoice together at the blessings God has bestowed on our family. My mind is clear and the fear that left me that day has never returned. That was 30 years ago.
Barbara Hattemer, the author of the just released novel Field of Daisies (a poignant tale of hope, faith, and the determination to beat seemingly impossible odds when Alzheimer's strikes the third generation of a family), was educated at Smith College and Harvard Business School, worked for a management consulting firm before marrying and raising four children. For 15 years she fought for high community standards at home and throughout the country, giving hundreds of Radio and Television interviews and debates. Featured in Christian Herald Magazine and Focus on the Family's Citizen; recipient of Christian Herald's first James 1:22 Award, she appeared on The Today Show with Bryant Gumbel and on Dr. James Dobson's Radio Program. http://www.BarbaraHattemer.com