Finding the grace to deal with an elderly mentally ill family member
We all face unexpected challenges, challenges that feel like they have the potential to threaten our peace and our walk with God. Such a challenge came to me in the form of my elderly aunt. Some of you might know that that I have taken in my elderly aunt who suffers from various mental conditions…she was diagnosed amongst others with schizophrenia. She is nearly eighty years old, has never been married and has never had any children.
She has helped to raise me because I guess her condition back then was not as severe as it is now. The bond I have with her was formed then. I once heard it said that a perfect soul doesn’t always come in a perfect body. I think that adequately describes Rachel.
The early years
Rachel and I have a deep bond. When I was a baby my mother for various reasons was unable to take care of me. So I went to live with my granny. And Rachel lived there too. She was much younger then and still able to do lots of things herself.
I actually never realised back then that anything was actually “wrong” with her. She used to be my main playmate as a toddler. We played, she let me bake scones with her, we did needlework together… and I distinctly remember her being the first person telling me about Jesus and heaven. See Rachel loves God, I remember seeing her on her knees praying to God every night before she went to bed. She would sing hymns during the day as she went about her chores and constantly speak about being good and Jesus. She was meek and mild and ever so sweet.
As she got older her condition deteriorated. My granny died, her sisters whom she adored all died except for my mom whom she for some or the other reason can’t get along with. So here she is nearly eighty years old, no children, no husband, no other family except for me and my mom.
A problem surfaced
That is when the fun and games started. She was living alone in a big house and not coping. Her condition severely deteriorated – she was just not the person she used to be. We didn’t even realise that she had developed dementia on top of everything else. It just started slowly but progressed rapidly. She started accusing my poor unsuspecting mom of stealing various items from her home.
Then she accused me of having an affair with my boss. Then she started seeing and hearing things -crazy things. We were in for a wild ride. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I didn’t understand “this” Rachel! This was not “my” Rachel. I remember praying to God and asking Him to “fix” her and to show me what was going on. I thought that maybe she was just having a hard time dealing with the passing of my other aunt who lived with her in the house all the years. Then I thought maybe she was demon possessed! See after my aunt died my husband and I would fetch her on a Friday night to come and stay with us for the weekend.
Those weekends were hell! There would be arguments galore! Why? Because she would accuse us of all sorts of sinister things, be aggressive towards us, hallucinate…the list goes on and on.
I felt like I was at breaking point. I just didn’t understand it. I called in a pastor to come and pray for her and to clean our house off any evil spirits that might be causing this behaviour in her. I continued to pray. It went on for about another year and a half. And finally, God showed me…
Rachel was mentally ill. Severely mentally ill. She always had been, but she took her medicine regularly until her sister died. That is when she started not taking her medication as she should because no one was monitoring since she was living alone and went on a downward spiral. Add old age dementia on top of that and just general deterioration due to her other mental condition and it finally all made sense.
I asked my husband if she could come and live with us since we could see that she was not coping alone. She moved in, but it has not been easy. People kept telling me to put her in an old age home, and I finally gave in. She stayed for one night, but I went and fetched her the very next day because I had no peace about it. It just didn’t feel right for her to be there. I believe that God wants me to take care of her.
Well, fast-forward. She is living with me, she can no longer walk or do much for herself so I have to physically wash and dress her. She is also on adult nappies. She can still eat by herself and the mouth can surely still swear and cuss(which she never did before her severe mental decline). She is always in a bad mood and never says anything good about anybody or anything. She is often aggressive. Grace…oh grace is what it takes daily to walk this out.
But I believe that Rachel is where she belongs – with me. At least until our heavenly Father decides to come and take her home. This situation keeps me on my knees. I am praying to God for her soul. I don’t have the answers. I remember a Rachel who loves God, I am praying that God will remember that too and have mercy on her.
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I have learned many lessons from this whole experience. Obedience to God is one of them. And diligence and patience. I believe that God is using even this experience for my good. 2Corinthians 12:9 has new meaning for me: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
I have since found some coping mechanisms. I always talk about positive things to her, even if she responds negatively. I remind her of God’s love for her. Sometimes it calms her down. I also only let a Christian radio station play in her room. And I pray! I pray hard. It is the only way I can cope. I continue to speak life to her and over her. The old Rachel seems to be gone and I have had to mourn her, though Rachel the physical being is still alive.
It hurts and upsets me to see her this way. But I trust and believe that God is in control of this situation and that one day He will come to lead Rachel home to the heaven that she used to tell me about as a child. I haven’t given up hope and I am praying healing scriptures over her. Victory will be hers and mine and above all – victory will be God’s!
Have you dealt with a loved one suffering from mental illness? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.