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When There Are No Words

A touching moment and a prayer to help cope with the heartache of a loved one suffering from dementia.


“Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” —Isaiah 46:4 (ESV)

Help me see Your beauty in this, I pray silently. We’re in the car on the way home from visiting my ninety-three-year-old mother-in-law.

The first time I met Sybil, almost twenty years ago, I was struck by her eyes—ocean blue, so clear and bright, that I found myself looking deeply into them as if I just might see a distant gull soaring in the sunset.

Over the last few years, Sybil has battled a number of health problems, the most devastating being dementia, which causes her to need round-the-clock nursing care. As Sybil’s memories began to fade, she said the same prayer over and over again: her five children’s names, in their birth order. Often she would pause and ask how they were, each one, unaware she was speaking to her youngest and forgetting that her oldest had died years ago.

To explain these things was unbearable, so her prayer would continue. The same question would arise: “Are they all right?” The same answer: “Yes, they’re all good.” And her eyes would twinkle as she would respond, “Yes, yes. Good.” But now, even the names and memories of her children have slipped somewhere—heaven, I hope—and her sharp crystal eyes have softened to beautiful sea glass.

On the drive from the nursing home, I put my hand on my husband’s and just hold it there, searching for something to say and not finding anything. We sit with the hum of the motor. Even the boys in the backseat are quiet. They, too, know there are no words. I look out the window at the sun in the distance and go to my familiar prayer:

Dear God, help me see Your beauty in this. Help me to trust Your plan and feel blessed to be a witness.

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