“God is with us, even as I watch my wife with dementia slip away”
by Gracia Lee // December 22, 2020, 12:00 pm
For the past eight years, Nicholas Sim, 66, has watched helplessly as his wife with dementia slipped away. Yet he is confident that "God always has been, and is always, with us." Photo by Gracia Lee.
“Let me go and do what I do best – kiss my wife,” Nicholas Sim, 66, announces as he saunters to his room at the end of the hallway.
“Hi honey!” he greets her cheerily as he walks to where she is lying in bed. Bending over her frail frame, he hugs her and tenderly caresses her face.
“I love you, honey. I love you. It’s okay,” he whispers to his wife of almost 35 years, before kissing her gently on her forehead and cheek.
She does not respond to his affection – she cannot – but her blank gaze does not leave his face. It is Sim’s only assurance that she can still recognise him.
A life-changing diagnosis
For the past eight years, Sim has helplessly watched his soulmate and closest confidant degenerate into a hollow shell of who she used to be.
“Our world crashed right in front of us.”
The first signs had appeared in 2012, when Sim noticed she had become more confused and forgetful. “She would lose her way home, lose her way to the car after buying food at a hawker center that she was familiar with,” Sim recalled.
That November they received the devastating diagnosis: Moderately severe young onset dementia. His wife – whose name Sim has requested to keep private – was just 55.
“Our world crashed right in front of us,” he said, adding that the first few years were the toughest. “She was still lucid then, so imagine how she felt. It was frightening for her.”
Knowing that she was depressed, Sim closed down his executive search and human resources training businesses in 2015 to be by her side.
“She was afraid that one day she may forget about me.”
“I was afraid that she might be suicidal,” he said, adding that he forced himself to put on a brave front for her.
One night, he was roused from his sleep by her crying. “She said she was afraid that one day she may forget about me,” he recalled, pausing to blink back tears.
Wanting to ease her fears, he remembered teasing her: “Don’t be silly. You should only cry if I forget about you.”
But he later waited until she had drifted off to sleep before allowing himself to sob quietly beside her.
Her condition deteriorated quickly. By January 2014 – 14 months after her diagnosis – she could no longer recognise numbers and the alphabet.
“God, please protect and heal my wife if it is Your will. Please guide me on what to do and how to do it.”
The condition had also attacked her frontal lobe, which caused her to display “uncontrollable, inexplicable and shocking behaviour”, said Sim, who had to watch her constantly so she would not get into trouble.
For example, he recalled her scolding strangers for smoking, throwing other people’s food on the ground and knocking over an elderly lady at the supermarket.
Each time such incidents happened, he would apologise profusely to those his wife’s behaviour had offended. Not all were gracious or understanding, he said.
He described those initial few years as “painful, alarming and terrible”. But even though he could scarcely see God in his circumstances, Sim still trusted that He was in control. “I had no choice but to rely on Him,” he said.
Each day he prayed a simple prayer: “God, please protect and heal my wife if it is Your will. Please guide me on what to do and how to do it.”
Heartbreak and loss
His pain today is a lonelier one. His wife, now 63, is currently bedridden. She cannot move much or talk. She is no longer lucid. Just looking at her in this state feels like “utter helplessness”, said Sim.
“She is physically here but I have already lost her, the person dearest and closest to me.”
Even his happiest moments are dampened by grief as he is reminded that he can no longer share these moments with his wife.
“She is physically here but I have already lost her, the person dearest and closest to me. There is no one who can substitute her to share my joy, to share my pain, to share my everything,” he said.
The pair had been close. “We were like soulmates, you know? We had no secrets between us,” he said. “She was a devoted, selfless, unconditionally loving wife to me, and mother to our two kids. She was, and is, God’s greatest gift to me.”
He speaks highly of her, praising her for her decision to resign from her job 14 years ago so that she could spend more time with their two sons, who are now 25 and 28. Then, she had been a senior department manager in the insurance industry.
“We were like soulmates, you know? She was, and is, God’s greatest gift to me.”
“I was very proud of her. Very few people at the peak of their career would do that. Imagine her sacrifice. But to her, her children were more important.”
He also fondly remembers one of their last holiday trips together to Kerala, India, which they went with a few family friends. He recalled her wrapping him in her embrace as they cruised down a lake enjoying the breeze. “That was about the last period where she was aware and could hug me lovingly.”
God is God
The days are still tough to get by, but Sim takes refuge in the character of God.
“God is God and I am not, so why double guess unless He wants to reveal it?”
“Our God is a God of love and a God of grace. And therefore God did not will this, that’s for sure. But He must have allowed it. For whatever reason, that I can’t tell. God is God and I am not, so why double guess unless He wants to reveal it?” he said.
He believes that God can heal his wife, but also understands that it is entirely up to Him.
“If God wants to heal, God will heal. I have that much confidence. If He doesn’t want to heal, He has his reasons. But if it’s from God, it must be for a good reason. I’ll just leave it in His good hands.”
He has learnt not to look back at the past in regret, nor look forward to the future in fear. Rather, he focuses on the here and now and tries to make the best of the current situation.
“We all have a need to live beyond ourselves and to help others in order to find real happiness.”
Instead of harping on why God allowed this to happen, he chooses to channel his energy on what he can do today – for example, being there for his wife and children.
“When you find that you’re the captain of the ship, you cannot afford to go down. You have to keep on steering,” he said, adding that Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – has been especially true for him.
Earlier this November, his resilience and dedication to care for his wife earned him the Singapore Patient Caregiver Award by Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Apart from keeping himself busy with work – he’s now a freelance HR consultant and trainer – he also spends his time giving talks to caregivers, encouraging them to press on in their journeys. This in turn motivates him to keep going too.
“Your life is more than just your life,” he said. “We all have a need to live beyond ourselves and to help others in order to find real happiness.”
Faith that leads to hope
Having a grateful heart is also important (1 Thessalonians 5:18), said Sim, who believes there is always something to be thankful for, no matter the circumstance.
He is most grateful that his wife is still here physically, and that God has been giving him the strength to get through these past few years. “Even if God decides not to heal her, I want to have another eight years and more of this little that I have of her,” he said.
“You know best. I don’t know why things are like that, but I know You love us and You are in control.”
Launching into elaborate detail, he also recounted several incidences where he has seen God’s good and saving hand in his life – for example, when doctors incidentally detected, and subsequently removed, a cancerous tumour in his kidney, and when he narrowly missed being seriously injured or killed in a recent car accident.
He is also extremely thankful for his domestic helper, Cheryl, whom he called a “first-class home manager”. She has been instrumental in caring for his wife and loves her as her own mother, he said.
“I’m also thankful that I’m taking care of my wife, and not that she’s taking care of me,” he added quietly.
This Christmas, despite the loneliness of his journey, he is holding firm to one truth: “God has always been, and is always, with us.”
“Faith leads to hope. And if you don’t have hope, then what are you living on? How are you going to face another day? So I cling on to God and say: You know best. I don’t know why things are like that, but I know You love us and You are in control.”
This is the fourth story in our Christmas series: God with Us. READ THE “GOD WITH US” STORIES BELOW and check back for more stories every day till Christmas.
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FOR MORE STORIES ON HOPE IN SUFFERING, READ:
“Nigel and Donavan, one day we’ll meet again,” say parents of boys in tragic Tampines accident
“I realised caregiving is an act of worship”: Nurse who spent 20 years caring for mother and husband with stroke
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