I’m Glad Ronald Reagan Is Finally Dead.
It isn’t that I didn’t like the
man; I did. It’s that I
watched the ten-year course of Alzheimer’s disease on my wife’s
mother. It is not a happy journey to the Celestial City.
My mother-in-law wasn’t the first
person whom I knew with Alzheimer’s.
Some years before, I had noticed bizarre personality changes in an
older woman in my congregation. This
should have been the time when she and her husband enjoyed their
retirement together, but she turned it into a nightmare; first she began
to misplace items, and instead of facing the reality of a failing memory,
she would accuse her husband of stealing!
Then when she would find something she’d been looking for, she
would accuse him of playing evil tricks on her.
Things went from bad to worse.
One day, as they sat with friends, she told everybody that her
husband was guilty of something really terrible—he was somebody they
ought to watch out for. It
was the last straw. “In
sickness and health” didn’t cover this, he thought, and he left her
and moved to another state. She
also got mad at the church and left. Sometime later I was able to
visit her in the hospital, and later I attended her funeral—by another
pastor, in another church—not the first time that somebody in whom I had
invested years of pastoral care left in bitterness.
I was never able to find out where her husband went.
My mother-in-law’s disease was
managed by her family—first, pretty much by her husband, then by my wife—we
moved her to Central Louisiana about fourteen months before she died,
because my father-in-law simply could no longer tend to her by himself.
For many months he would alternate his time staying with us and
traveling back to Florida to tend to things there.
On January 16, 2001, Mrs. Price was discharged from her last stay
in the hospital and after one night in one of those Gulags for the elderly
and dying, she once again moved into our home.
From that day until her death around eight in the morning on May 9,
2001, she never got out of the bed. She
couldn’t even turn herself or roll over; she could only wave her arms.
We watched as she developed gangrene on the heel of her right foot.
The nurses came twice a week to check on her, debated with the
doctor, who oversaw her care, on how to proceed. They decided not to
amputate, and the dark spot grew. Then one day the gangrenous, almost golf ball-sized piece of
necrotic tissue simply fell off. And
to our amazement, she lived on a couple of more months.
I’m not sure whom all she
recognized. For a period of
time she thought my wife was her mother, but eventually she ceased to be
able to talk at all. It was
slow and painful for the family. We
never left her alone for more than a couple of minutes.
We always ate our evening meal in her bedroom with the television
going. (I hate using
television as background noise; in fact, I pretty much hate television.)
But my wife’s father kept it on and only turned it off when he
decided to go to sleep at night. When
it was my turn to sit with her, so Sandy and her Dad could go into town
and get a break, I would turn it off and read.
I would also do a lot of thinking and reflection.
I thought about killing her. I
don’t mean seriously. It wasn’t even a fantasy—more of an
emotionally loaded, ethical question with which I wrestled.
don’t mean seriously. It wasn’t even a fantasy—more of an emotionally loaded, ethical question with which I wrestled.
I knew there was the little bottle
of drops containing morphine sitting by the rented hospital bed in which
she lay. From being with
dozens of sick people at death, I knew there would be no autopsy because
she would have died under the care of a physician.
I knew I could get away with it.
I didn’t dislike her. In
fact, I truly believe I loved her and briefly entertained the idea that it
would be a loving act—loving to her, loving to her husband, to my wife,
to my wife’s sister (who would leave her teaching job and family and
travel to Louisiana for ten day stretches during those five months.)
Of course, I never really embraced
that kind of thinking. Why?
Because I believe God is sovereign over all of life.
I believe that God has foreordained whatever comes to pass—God,
“who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”
(Ephesians 1:11.) -- God, who “is faithful,” who “will not let you
be tempted beyond what you can bear, but when you are tempted,” “will
also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians
10:13.) -- God, who has numbered the hairs of our heads and before whom
not a sparrow falls outside his sovereign purpose. (Matthew 10:29-31.)
Everything that I ever had read in Scripture reminded me that no
one dies apart from the plan and purpose of God.
Mrs. Price was still alive, held incommunicado in the tiny cell of
Alzheimer’s, because God’s purpose for her life had not yet been
fulfilled. It wasn’t simply
whatever mysterious thing God might be accomplishing in her; it was what
he would do through her in the lives of others—in my life, too.
There is a profound sense of the
futility of life that comes over you as you tend for a dying loved one,
months on end. I thought
about Saint Paul’s words in Romans 8:20, 21, “For the creation was
subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of him who
subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from
its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of
I thought about Qoholeth’s words,
so broadly paraphrased by Kenneth Taylor:
“Don’t let the excitement of
being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your
youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living.
It will be too late then to try to remember him when the sun and
light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver
lining left among your clouds. For
there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, your strong
legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work,
and there will be blindness too. Then
let your lips be tightly closed while eating when your teeth are gone! And
you will waken at dawn with the first note of the birds; but you yourself
will be deaf and tuneless, with quavering voice.
You will be afraid of heights and of falling—a white-haired,
withered old man, dragging himself along: without sexual desire, standing
at death’s door, and nearing his everlasting home as the mourners go
along the streets. Yes,
remember your Creator now while you are young—before the silver cord of
life snaps and the gold bowl is broken; before the pitcher is broken at
the fountain and the wheel is broken at the cistern; then the dust returns
to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
But then I remembered Paul’s words
in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though
outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by
day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal
glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen
That “wasting away,” especially
in a decade long battle of defeat with Alzheimer’s is difficult, and
Scott Peck, for all his errors, was right on when he penned:
“Life is difficult.
“This is a great truth, one of the
greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth,
we transcend it. Once we
truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then
life is no longer difficult. Because
once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
“Most do not fully see this truth
that life is difficult. Instead
they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity
of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were
generally easy, as if life should be easy.
They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties
represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has
somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families,
their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species,
and not upon others. I know
about this moaning because I have done my share.
“Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?
Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
“Discipline is the basic set of
tools we require to solve life’s problems.
Without discipline we can solve nothing.
With only some discipline we can solve only some problems.
With total discipline we can solve all problems.”
Contrary to Peck, we cannot
solve every problem with discipline; the futility of life means that there
is a barrier which brings inutility to human action, a place where we
simply bow our forehead before God’s majesty and worship the one whose
purposes are beyond our comprehension.
“What makes life difficult is that
the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one.
Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or
sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or
anguish or despair. These are
uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any
kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical
pain. Indeed, it is because
of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us that we call them
problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is
always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.
“Yet it is in this whole process
of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning.
Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success
and failure. Problems call
forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our
wisdom. It is because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit,
we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as
in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve.
It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that
we learn. As Benjamin
Franklin said, ‘Those things that hurt, instruct.’
It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but
actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.
“Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or
lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems.
We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away.
We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist.
We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by
deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the
pain. We skirt around
problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through
“This tendency to avoid problems
and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all
human mental illness. Since
most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us
are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental
health. Some of us will go to
quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they
cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in
order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate
fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality.
In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, ‘Neurosis is always
a substitute for legitimate suffering.’”
(M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled, pp. 15-17.)
Life is difficult, and it is
fleeting. In so many ways, so
much of life for so many people is unbelievably sad, and for everybody,
sooner or later, no matter how much of this world’s goods they enjoy,
there is an underlying grief and emptiness to life in this world.
“Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.”
(Proverbs 14:13.) I used to
watch that funny man, Johnny Carson, and my wife and I would comment on
the sadness in his eyes. Life
is a place of toil and tribulation.
“’Mid toil and tribulation,
Yet it is only in this sober
realization that life is full of sadness, that we can discover the secret
to happiness, not only in the world to come, but in the here and now, too.
For Saint Peter encourages, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in
whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy
unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8.)
“All I once held dear, built my life
“Now my heart’s desire is to know
“Oh to know the power of your risen
“Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you
What goes on in the sequestered soul
silently waiting the summons to face the last enemy before the blessed
embrace, where a nail-pierced hand wipes away every tear?
God knows; I don’t. The
promise of Proverbs 4:18 is still true, “The path of the righteous is
like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of
day.” Can a bed of numbed pain in that drifting consciousness of
Alzheimer’s be a trysting place with Jesus?
When my own wife once lay for days in a coma, she remembers being
called back from a beautiful place of peace with rolling hills of verdant
grass and blooming flowers; it was full of people, beatific with holy
mirth. Who knows?
What we do know is that we have “a more sure word of prophecy,”
Holy Scripture. (2 Peter 1:19.) And
that Word gives us a “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to
“While I draw this fleeting breath,
There is compelling evidence that
both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Price hid themselves in Christ—the
mighty Rock. So I am glad they are dead—glad for their families,
but more importantly glad for them—for death is always gain for the
believer. (Philippians 1:21.) It is the completion of our course and the
final victory in the battle with sin; it is final rest and joy
unspeakable. It is the open
door to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the Great Hall of the King of