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In the Midst of Dementia, A Miraculous Moment of Clarity

A heartfelt conversation between mother and daughter serves as a reminder that God never forgets us.

A pair of hands holding each other; Getty Images

I sat across from my 84-year-old mother at the Mexican restaurant we often went to after her doctor appointments, watching her try to hide her confusion as she looked at the menu.

“Mama, you always get the chicken quesadilla,” I said. “Why don’t you order that?”

“Yes, I was just thinking that, honey,” she said, trying her best to sound decisive.

My heart broke for her. My well-read, intelligent mother, who worked crossword puzzles upside down and conquered cryptoquotes, could no longer understand a menu she’d read countless times before.

I’d worked in a nursing home so I knew all too well the ravages of dementia. But nothing could have prepared me to see my mother go through it. One day, Mama might forget where she kept her silverware; the next, a little piece of who she was would be lost.

I felt like I’d lost myself too. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken a nap, read a book or gone on a date with my husband, Chris, without interruption. From the moment I woke up until I drifted off to sleep, I walked a tightrope of work, home and attending to every aspect of Mama’s life. I juggled the grocery shopping, the bill paying and the caregivers who came to her home. I set up her meds and took her to doctor appointments. It was hard work, made harder with the knowledge that with each passing day, she was slipping further from me and there was nothing I could do about it.

One afternoon, I brought Mama some groceries. She sat in her living room armchair, staring bleakly into space. “I can’t hear God’s voice in my heart anymore,” she said. “He’s forgotten all about me.”

Her words, so unlike her, stopped me in my tracks. Mama had devoted her whole life to God. She’d visited missionaries overseas and had been deeply involved in church. Whenever someone in our community was going through something, they’d ask her to pray for them. And, of course, she prayed for me, often out loud. I missed Mama’s prayers so much!

“That’s not true, Mama,” I told her. “You might forget things, but God would never forget you.”

If only I could convince myself. As Mama’s dementia progressed, I wondered how God could allow a faithful follower to go through such suffering. Her speech became garbled; she forgot more words than she remembered. Eventually, she could no longer put together a coherent sentence.

Where was God’s presence in all this? His comfort and reassurance that Mama—and I—had always depended on? Was Mama right? Had God forgotten her?

Stephanie and her mother

One evening, Chris and I stopped by Mama’s house before going out to a rare dinner. One of her caregivers was there. Mama’s face was radiant. When her caregiver went to another room, she approached me confidently. “I want to have a conversation with you,” she said. “Just the two of us.” She took my hand and led me to her room. I thought I might be dreaming. We sat down on the bed. She told me I’d been a wonderful daughter, and I told her she’d been a wonderful mother. We talked about her life and her countless blessings. Our conversation went on for about 15 minutes. Mama’s speech was coherent, and her old mannerisms, like moving her hands when she spoke, had returned. There was something profoundly renewed about her. She flowed from one sentence to another with ease, completely present. This was no dream! Finally, she bowed her head and said a prayer out loud for me. Then she stared into my eyes for a moment before she spoke.

“God’s been with me this whole time, honey,” she said. “He’s been present, even in this. He’s going to come soon and take me home to heaven. No one should worry about me, because I’ll be at peace.”

“I’ve missed you so much!” I told her, giving in to my tears.

“I’ve missed me too,” she said before taking me in her arms. We hugged for what seemed like forever.

Mama never spoke coherently again. Still, that miraculous moment of clarity bolstered me through three more years of caring for Mama until she passed. For in that moment, I understood in the deepest reaches of my soul that God never forgets us.

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