Guest Blogger RJ Thesman: Finding the Shepherd within Alzheimer’s


While visiting my mother at the assisted living facility, we decided to go to “church.” A visiting pastor would present a brief service and offer encouragement – making Sunday a special day at the “home.”

Although Mom is now in Stage Five of Alzheimer’s Disease, that sacred place within her where God resides has not been forgotten. So she picked up her Bible and we walked down the hall to the reception area.

I wondered how many of the residents would gain anything from the service, but I watched as they sang some of their favorite hymns, their faces aglow with the memory of other places and decades past when they sang with their families sitting next to them in wooden pews.

The pastor asked if the group would help him recite Psalm 23. I suppressed a snicker, certain that none of these folks, including my mother, would remember an entire Psalm, much less be able to recite it. Alzheimer’s is, after all, the memory thief.

But I didn’t realize how deep that sacred place is that resides within the soul, how the word of God digs in so intensely that not even a brain disease can disrupt it.

So I watched and listened as these dear souls, in various stages of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease recited the Shepherd Psalm.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

They quoted the King James version, with none of them missing a beat.

“He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

How many of them prayed that God would restore their lives, do a miracle in their bodies and release them from this disease, this long and tragic goodbye?

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

A righteous life includes reading the word of God and hiding those words in their hearts so that when the end of life comes, when those final years flip over onto the calendar, they hang on to what really matters.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; they rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

These saints understand better than I because they live in that valley. I could see it in their eyes, in the faces accessorized with various shades of gray hair, the shining baldness of the men. This valley they knew and only God could help them walk through it unafraid.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Food no longer provides comfort because the appetite is gone, the taste buds have forgotten a favorite flavor or the joy of family meals. Yet smiles surfaced around the group – maybe a dim remembrance of God’s anointing on a life, the cup of joy that once ran over and now waits for its fulfillment.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life….”

My mother, her voice clear, her eyes bright – solid in her faith and waiting for her timeline to end.

“And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


RJT - pic for 2nd book (3)RJ Thesman writes as a daughter whose mother is disappearing into the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Reverend G trilogy, published by CrossRiver Media, uses a fictional story to encourage caregivers and help readers understand how the Alzheimer’s patient might be thinking as she journeys through the Long Goodbye. Thesman’s books are available from her publisher at and also on Amazon and Kindle. You can follow Thesman’s blog and sign up for her newsletters at

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*Flickr photo by Jon Ragnarsson, Creative Commons License


  1. Laura Drumb says

    That is powerful. HARD for me to read & remember, because my mom also struggled with this horrid disease the last 4 years of her life. Not long by some standards but we packed the whole mess into those awful days & weeks & months. But the ONE THING that she never forgot, right to her dying breath, was that God loved her & cared for her! She couldn’t quote Scripture & had no clue who Jesus was, only God, so Easter & Christmas were gone for her the last 2 years, but she knew GOD!!! And that’s what counted. Her last words were of love & we released her into His loving arms, where she belonged. I know Mom knew her Shepherd right to the end b/c she made that decision long years before, to serve Him & be loved by Him & to love others in His Name. So she cheated Alzheimer’s out of one of the cruelest of its blows in this manner & I’ll forever be grateful for that! God is so good ALL THE TIME & NO MATTER WHAT! One of our most powerful testimonies during those years was her last Christmas when she was able to sing all five verses of “Silent Night” without missing a single word & with her lovely voice right in tune! That was my Christmas Miracle I will never forget!

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Laura. Such a wonderful and powerful testimony — what an amazing God we have! So glad He blessed you with this Christmas miracle with your mom!

  2. Cheryl,

    What a powerful story. Thank you, RJ, for guest-posting this. Nice to meet you. Wow, I didn’t know that they could remember songs and scripture, but what a neat thing from God.

    Cheryl, re your comment on my post “Between the Doorbell and the Cheetah Print,” it was a treat and reminder for me too, Cheryl, … this new pattern of sinking into grace and welcome and already Enough. I’m glad a friend could enjoy it then too.

    Jennifer Dougan

    • Jennifer, so glad you enjoyed RJ’s post. It was my pleasure to share her story here. Like you and Laura both said, very powerful. Such a blessing to know how deeply the Word of God can be rooted in us, isn’t it?

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