“When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” –Dory from Finding Nemo
The complexity of the human brain defies adequate adjectives. Inside your head lies a roughly three-pound organ consisting of a 1000 trillion synapses which connect and share information with billions of brain cells. Complex? Yup. It must take some time to make those connections, huh? Nope. All practically instant. Amazingly, these billions of little pieces work in perfect unison not unlike the massive schools of fish that I remember Jacque Cousteau filming under the sea. Daily, brain cells in this complex ocean of grey matter die and are replaced quickly. Something goes out of whack in a typical brain? No worries. It was created to try to rewire and/or repair itself! Take a moment and be thankful for your noggin today, even when all is not perfect.
My mom has had challenges with memory for at least ten years. It started some time ago with forgotten or incorrectly-remembered stories and the asking the same, often very sad questions multiple times in the same conversation. The condition has gradually devolved from a cute character quirk to a cause for concern. She was formally diagnosed with a brain condition caused dementia. In the last few months, what was once dementia can only been seen in the rear-view, replaced by the current Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. That same amazing brain, which can repair itself in many marvelous ways, valiantly fights Alzheimer’s too. One “cause” of Alzheimer’s appears to be a sticky plaque substance that harms the brain cells. Fearing harm, the brain unleashes a defense on the substance that actually harms itself in the process. The resulting loss of mass gradually makes things worse until we pass away from resulting complications.
My Christian faith teaches me from the book of Romans that to us “all things work for the good…”, whether we get to see the good that happens out of a very bad “thing” like this brain ailment or not. In fact, it can be on the surface a big, fat challenge to find anything particularly “good” or redeeming in an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to one of your favorite people. The human life is an ocean with beauty and splendor… and with ugliness, but good can be found somehow. With my mom I see several glimmers of good, like a pearl in the midst of an ugly oyster, if I keep my mind open to see it. She has already lived an amazing life. She has a host of kids, grandkids and even some great grandkids who love her dearly, and still remember the good times even when she can’t remember. She has seen the world. She has experienced ocean living and she has lived in puddle. However, she has also lived a life with some very substantial physical and emotional challenges and one with many tragic events and losses. Friends and loved ones have died. She has been mentally and physically hurt many times. Sadly. some of the same tragedies that she retold over and over when she was beginning to show symptoms are now gone. While she somewhat struggles with the fear of losing things, I feel like many of the things she used to fear the most are now erased like the plaque that caused her brain condition. Yes I am saddened by the loss of the “good memories”…I would be a monster to not be. But when I think of the non-good things she has been able to forget, perhaps for the first time in many decades, it shows me some “good–some redemption of the bad ailment– and it reminds me of her future in a place with no tears (Rev 21).
I close my thoughts on this topic with this: Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are brutal for the person experiencing them and for the loved ones around them. Keep swimming and keep searching for the pearls among the oysters. Seek out the orange clown fish or the blue tang fish among the mire. I am proud to work for a non-profit like SeniorAge, who daily helps countless folks like me and you navigate these waters and see the good among the bad.
The human brain is made up of over 100 billion nerve cells with each brain cell connected to around 10,000 other cells, which equals around 1000 trillion connections in your brain. (Reference) As intricately-designed as this 3 pound blob of goo is, it is not “who I am”. The God of the Christian Scriptures created me with a soul, and this soul animates me into who I am. This soul will live forever long after my current cranium stuffing turns to powder.