The frail woman sat in a wheelchair, her eyes shut, as always.
“At the edge of the universe,” she said, in a hoarse whisper. Her gray hair hung limp her tan sweater engulfed her body. She sat, as always, unmoving, as if frozen in time. Anyone looking at her and hearing her strange phrase might think she was
“gone” mentally. Could she have Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia, or was she lost in a bottomless pit of despair?
“Dahlia, would you like me to pray for you?” I asked.
“I’m so alone,” she said, clasping her hands on my wrists. “I miss my children.” Her lucid statement surprised me. “I keep seeing my daughter at the threshold of mortality, at the edge, out there,” she said, tightening her grip, “and I’m afraid that God won’t protect her.”
I leaned close to her face as she bowed her head toward her chest and
grimaced as if she would cry. Her chest trembled. She stirred emotions in me, reminding me of the times I had to walk away from the ICU, the rehab hospital, the nursing home, the sanitarium. Away from the police car with my relative inside.
“I’m going to pray for you, okay?” Her trembling body made me want to hold her, indefinitely. During the prayer her grip loosened slightly and she no longer grimaced.
“Please, please stay with me,” she said after the prayer. “You are the only existence of reality I have. If you leave, I will lose reality.”
In some odd way, I believed her, believed that when she was left alone in her chair with no physical contact and no earnest conversation, her lucid connection with her surroundings would fade and disappear. Who would protect her then?
Like mothers of small children and care givers for people fragmented by
illness, I wanted to remain by this woman’s side like a sentry. Stay until she
regained her mental focus, security and peace. But you and I cannot stay by
someone’s side every moment of every day. We cannot ensure the existence of
reality, or of peace or painlessness, neither for schizophrenics nor for anyone
As Christians, though, we have spiritual realities and must dare to believe them when all looks dim. Our highest reality is that someone greater than us is in control and he will reveal his compassion and might and goodness to us.
For those of you taking care of someone with mental illness or brain trauma, you can trust that God will work together with the details of this sickness and all the needs that go along with it. He will work in good results (Rom. 8: 28). He will work with a kindness and wisdom beyond your understanding through the worst symptoms and pain. He only does wondrous things, the psalmist says (Ps. 72:18).
Trust in the goodness of God no matter how searing your anguish. Begin by believing that when you turn around and go home (to sleep, to eat, to work), God will give your suffering loved one a grace to survive and grow.
This is God’s goodness to you—that he gives graces to the one you love, giving him or her the ability to not only survive, but to learn to live in a new way. This is a further mercy to you—that his divine guidance and care (also called providence) will mark your days, even when fear tempts you to doubt.