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By: Rosemary Bogdan on November 12th, 2022

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Alzheimer's and a Rosary Awakening

praying the Rosary  |  Aging Parents

 My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for over a decade, very debilitated for most of that time, unable to walk, scarcely able to talk or recognize the people who loved her most. My three youngest children had never known her in any other condition and yet, inexplicably, each still had a relationship with her.

They would ask to visit her, delighting in pushing her wheelchair, and always greeting her with a hug. We frequently took her into the courtyard of her nursing home. My son would play the piano for her in the drawing room. We tried to connect with her in some way, feeding her favorite foods, reminding her of our names, telling her the family news. 

Eventually it became impossible to tell if she could understand us at all. Usually her torso was slumped to the side and propped with pillows, fists partly clenched, her eyes glassy and vacant. She rarely made any eye contact and we were not even sure if she could see. She had not uttered a rational word in a very long time. The days when she had been able to come to my children’s events seemed like a very distant memory. I had read that the words to prayers memorized years before would sometimes remain in the consciousness of an Alzheimer’s patient and I wanted to see if that might be true in my mother’s case.

My children and I took her to the small, nondenominational nursing-home chapel. There was a stained-glass window along the hallway and a bouquet of artificial flowers in the middle of a tall altar that seemed to serve no other purpose. I longed for the Eucharistic Presence. Still, it was private and no one else was in the two or three pews. I placed my mother’s wheelchair in the front and turned her around to face the rest of us.

My mother had always loved the Rosary, and we had frequently prayed it together as a family when I was growing up. We started to pray it together. After the first few prayers there was an astonishing change in my mother’s posture. She pulled her whole body a little forward and straightened to an upright position. We had not seen her do this in a number of years. I did not think she still had the ability to move her body at all. She then focused her eyes intently and looked at each of us individually, scanning from one side of the room to the other. Then, to the amazement of our entire family, she started to mouth the words of the Hail Mary and muttered the prayer with us.

I could scarcely speak. My youngest daughter, who was about five or so, leaned toward her grandmother’s chair. My mother had not used her arms at all in a very long time. Yet she reached out and gently stroked my daughter’s hair. I sat there in amazement, slowly continuing with the Rosary. Then, Mom leaned over and tried to kiss Liz on the top of her head. I was speechless. “Lizzie,” I said. “Do you know what just happened? Grandma just tried to kiss you.” Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears as she said with delight, “I always wanted Grandma to kiss me!”

Somehow the praying of the Rosary, the invoking of the Queen of Peace, had temporarily broken through the chains of this horrible disease. It’s impossible to know how much Alzheimer’s patients can perceive and comprehend. Somehow I think it’s a lot more than any of us realize. In a mysterious and cruel way, their abilities to respond are locked. But inside resides the same person, the same dear soul, who loves and is loved.

No doubt the Father looks upon these beloved children of his with a special tenderness reserved for the most vulnerable. May we never forget that each of these precious individuals, while completely helpless and incapable in the eyes of the world, is still in fact a priceless son or daughter of the King, and the very same person on the inside who has always been there.

Copyright 2022, Rosemary Bogdan

About Rosemary Bogdan

Rosemary Bogdan is a wife, mother of six adult children, and a grandmother. She homeschooled her children when they were young and currently substitute teaches at her favorite Catholic school. When not spending time with her family, Rosemary writes at A Catholic Mother's Thoughts and Catholic365.com.