Finding Beauty in Alzheimer’s

Sarah Smith said her mother wanted her to be fearless.

Fearless as a young gymnast who gave up normalcy for hour-long drives twice a day to practices that had her up well before the sun rose and back home after 10 p.m. Fearless as a teenager who struggled to find herself in high school after giving up gymnastics. Fearless as a Christian.

(ABOVE: Sarah Smith (right) and her mother, “Beauty.” Courtesy photo)

“Fix your eyes on the Lord – be Sarah,” her mother would say.

Who would have ever thought that Sarah would have to be fearless for her mother?

Sarah was a young mother when she started to notice a tempering in her mother’s behavior; the once pristine emails she’d send were full of typos, and her “I’m a strong woman” mentality was clouded with incessant crying.

Then it was her speech.

“We lock eyes, the disease temporarily disappears, and we feel the connection we have had since she carried me on her hip during my toddler years.” -Sarah Smith

In the beginning, Sarah’s mother, known as “Beauty” to her family and friends, tried to hide what was later diagnosed as early-onset Alzheimer’s from her children.

“When she wouldn’t share with me I was disappointed,” Sarah recalled about the frustration she felt. “I was so mad, but (my father) would say, ‘It’s for her to share,’ and I had to honor that.”

As Beauty continued to regress, Sarah put on the strong hat her mother used to wear and stepped in as caregiver – a decision that showed her exactly what Alzheimer’s looked like; her mom laughing after drinking nail polish remover or forgetting what a tortilla was.

“That started the descent for me of isolation and letting those emotions take over,” Sarah said. “I would cry and then redo my makeup when it was time to get the kids and put on a façade that I was OK, but really my heart was breaking.”

She was losing her mom and remembered asking God why he was letting it happen.

“I did not understand his timing. I did not understand his message. I wanted him to give me reasons,” Sarah said. “Whatever I was looking for was for Sarah, and I think God was waiting for me to say, ‘I confess, I can’t control this disease.’”

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When Sarah finally told God, “I need you to take this because I can’t do it anymore,” she experienced an outpouring of strength and love and fearlessness that’s showing itself in a growing ministry.

In her book, Broken Beauty, and through social media, Sarah said she is trying to show the beauty behind brokenness and what happens when one fixes their eyes on love.

“When I do that, my heart almost doesn’t allow me to see the disease,” she said. “When I dance with her for 20 minutes, it is amazing. We lock eyes, the disease temporarily disappears, and we feel the connection we have had since she carried me on her hip during my toddler years.”

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