All That Remained – Navigating Dementia With Faith
A student observes his grandmother dealing with dementia, and discovers the one thing that remains with her as her memory slowly fades.
Dementia is a heartbreaking illness. It impairs a person’s ability to think, changes their personality, and can cause them to forget their most beloved ones. In times of hardship, when all else is stripped away, true character shines through. Some conditions, like personality changes, are not the person’s fault. But Allah is never far, and He manifests His mercy in amazing ways.
In the early 60s a pious woman, married a simple bus driver in Pakistan. Three weeks later, she relocated to the United Kingdom, where she is now the matriarch of over 30 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Now in her eighties and despite her age and her deteriorating health, she remains steadfast in her prayers and fasting, seems to constantly be in a state of Dhikr, and is often reading the Qur’an. She is always present for family events, whether they be weddings, funerals, mawlids or casual get-togethers.
For decades she would cook and serve food to the entire family, always offering to serve others. Her food was not just tasty, but had a lot of love and baraka in it.
But dementia has taken its toll on her life, and she is unable to do many of the things she once enjoyed. She recently asked one of her daughters, my aunt, “How many children do I have?” and on another occasion, “How many children do you have?” In addition, I once overheard my uncle say that it’s difficult to plan trips and outings, because she will forget about it when it’s time to go.
When dementia strips a personality down to the bare bones, it reveals what lies underneath. The night before my brother’s wedding, she came to stay at our house, and Allah showed me her rank. I was reading from Sura al-Baqara, the longest chapter of the Qur’an, while she was lying down alongside me. She seemed to be dozing, oblivious to what I was doing. Suddenly, she shouted out and grabbed me on the arm.
At first, I was confused as to what she was doing until I rechecked the verse and discovered that I had mispronounced one of the letters. I reread the word correctly and she nodded and allowed me to continue. I thought it was a coincidence, or that maybe I had been reading a verse that she knew well. But a few minutes later, she woke up again when I’d made another mistake, and she corrected me again in the same way. She corrected me in the same manner that Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa corrects those who slip up while reciting a mawlid.
She has not memorized the Qur’an, nor is she a scholar of tajwid. Yet somehow, she sensed my mistake and been able to correct me. I always knew that she had a love for the Qur’an. It amazed me how Allah had beautifully preserved her memory for His Book, even as the memories of her own children faded.
My grandmother is now entering into the final chapters of her life. We pray that Allah grants her a good end and a felicitous entry into Paradise, by His Grace.
By Zaid Malik
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