Slipping into Darkness – Focus Scripture: Psalm 139:11-12 (NLT)
In remembrance James T. Reed, Jr. (1928-2010)
What can I say about James T. Reed, Jr., my father-in-law? He was a complex man, infuriating yet endearing all at the same time. If you looked below the surface of his harsh exterior, you could see a sensitive, vulnerable soul who reluctantly reached out to others in hopes that they would reach back to him. During his lifetime, he worked his way from the bottom up to show the world that he was good enough. He was a man of determination who resolved early in life to walk tall, to live free, and to rise above the circumstances of his birth. He spent a great deal of time and energy demonstrating to others that he could stride alongside the best of them regardless of their race or social status or politics. In many ways he was indomitable.
Then Alzheimer’s disease attacked him in his later years. My husband, daughter, granddaughter, and I used to go to visit him in the nursing home every week. At first, he was able to communicate, maintaining the ability to engage in conversation and to share his spirit, his presence, his wants, and his needs. As the disease progressed he was no longer able to attend to our presence except through non-verbal means such as eye contact and purposive body language.
During some of our visits, my father-in-law retreated to a place of impenetrable reverie. Our words could not reach him there. Those were the visits that left us feeling helpless and unsettled. I used to wonder where Daddy went during those episodes of repose when he seemed to be alone within himself. I found it painful to watch this once intimidating, vibrant, life-loving man decline to a person who couldn’t even remember what he had for breakfast. None of it made sense to me, so I reflected on scripture.
My reflections concentrated on Psalm 139. In this scripture, the psalmist speaks of God: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (vv 7-10, NIV).
I believe that during those times when my father-in-law drifted to that inner place, God was with him. This scripture reassured me that even as we sat in Daddy’s room on those silent days, God was embracing my father-in-law with a steadfast and everlasting love. I believe that in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease my father-in-law was resting in a state of peacefulness with God, the Maker of Light: “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you (v 12).”
After reflecting on Psalm 139, I conclude that the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease is not greater than our Creator who has searched us and known us and is acquainted with all our ways. I believe that during those dark times, God was beaming his eternal light into the spirit of my father-in-law. And I believe with all my heart that my father-in-law’s spirit is now at rest and peace with God, the Lord of Light.
Compassionate God, even in the midst of my challenges, when I seem to be in total darkness, the light of your sustaining love surrounds me and comforts me. Amen.