At Church, They Were Saying She Had An ‘Odor’ – Part I

Photo Credit: G E Weithers
Photo Credit: G E Weithers

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

I hung up the phone in disbelief. A close family friend had called to relate a conversation they over-heard at church regarding my aunt.

“They are saying she has an offensive odor.”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yes, they don’t want to sit in the pew next to her because it’s so bad.”

“I don’t understand. How bad is bad?”

“I don’t know … but are you sure … that she is bathing?”

“Bathing?!! Of course she is bathing! I can’t imagine her leaving home without bathing! It would have to be something else that is causing the odor!”

And that was that. End of discussion. But in reality, my aunt was not bathing. She was living alone and experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s; her brain was not functioning as it should and unfortunately we just didn’t know it at the time.  Worse yet, why were the faithful with whom she worshipped every single Sunday more enthused about gossiping among themselves?  Why hadn’t they called to tell us of their ‘concern’ instead of whispering among themselves?  Weren’t they supposed to help carry her ‘burden’?

 I was more than a little upset to say the least but decided to move on.  It wasn’t that I had never heard of Alzheimer’s disease.  Quite a few friends had mentioned – in passing – how this disease was affecting their parents, grandparents or some other elderly relative, but it wasn’t until recently that my relationship with the disease became that more intimate.

When our aunt started to lose her memory earlier this year we thought it was just ‘old age’. After all, she was 84 years old, had been a stern headmistress for more than half of her life and was busier after she retired than when she was a full time teacher. Very active in her church and surrounding community, we never even considered Alzheimer’s as a possibility … until it was too late.

The disease consumed her so quickly – it was and still is unbelievable. She frequently forgot where she was going, what she had just eaten for breakfast or what she had really intended to cook before her brain wandered off without her. After she began to walk away from home, we knew we had no choice but to move her into a special facility where she could get the quality care she needed. We hurt, not because she would be better looked after, but because she had always expected to live out her last days in her own house surrounded by family.

Today we cringe inside as we watch her struggle to walk a few steps unassisted or drink slowly from a baby’s sip cup. We sigh as we help her colour between the lines in a book that would be used by a three-year old and try to smile as she calls us by the wrong names. Our hearts break as she weeps bitterly, because we know that somewhere deep inside she knows who she has become is nowhere near who she was before.

She is fading before our eyes, just as this blogger is describing for us in her post She was disappearing right before our eyes about her grandmother, and which helps us rest a little bit easier in the knowledge that it’s not just us walking this long hard journey.

Please pray for us – as well as for the members of her church – and then share these few words from our heart with others because Alzheimer’s is very very real … whether you go to church or not.  For part II of this story you can go here: At Church, They Were Saying She Had An ‘Odor’ Part II

Click on the links below to learn more about this disease.

Verses for Reflection

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10 (NKJV)

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)

Beautiful portrait
Beautiful portrait

My aunt when she was younger and at a happy time of year - Christmas
My aunt at one her favourite times of year:  Christmas!
Here I am at lunch with my aunt (sitting) and my mum (her closest sister)
Here I am at lunch with my aunt (sitting) and my mum (her closest sister)
My aunt (in the middle) enjoying time with two of her nieces
My aunt (in the middle) enjoying time with two of her many nieces not that long ago

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Barbadian mother and lover of laughter; story teller and best-selling author; happy to follow God's lead and to live my mantra: "you've gotta be a rainbow in the lives of others when it rains."

19 thoughts on “At Church, They Were Saying She Had An ‘Odor’ – Part I”

  1. Your aunt is the woman who along with my mother is responsible for making me the woman I am today. She is my favorite teacher even when she lashed me for failing at school work.


  2. Alzheimers is awful to watch…your loved one really transforms before your eyes. You have a more clear appreciation for ‘once a man twice a child’. But ever harder to watch and listen to is the stupidity, insensitivity and total ignorance of onlookers, even within the family. What gets me the most are the comments that suggest she brought it on herself, like you get it for having ‘done’ something in particular. All I can look on and wonder is, do these fools know if/when this horrible debilitating disease can befall them? I would say to anyone with a loved one who seems to be going in that direction, quit the denial, quit pretending and stimulate that person as much as you can because pretty soon they won’t even know who you are. In my family it is my paternal gran. She has at home care but many a day she says she wants to go home because in the stage of her mind she is at, her home of more than 50 years is not the home she knows. She can no longer have an intelligible conversation and it is sad to watch someone who was as active as she was, just sit around all day long or pacing up and down the house like a caged bird and perhaps that is what she feels like in her mind. She speaks to all the dead people from her family, not because she is crazy, as I have heard people say of her, but because where she is mentally, they are all still alive. It is indeed painful to watch someone you love suffer from this disease but more painful to see people shun them like they have leprosy. Alzheimers is not contagious and you can bet it doesn’t leave a note in the post to warn of its arrival, so today it can be the ‘crazy woman’ next door, tomorrow it can be you!


    1. Nicola, we never know when it’s going to be our time yet we behave as though we can’t get cancer or believe that Alzheimer’s will pass us by. No-one knows and these types of situations leave us powerless to do the things we normally would. Thanks for sharing about your granny; it’s good to know we are not alone as we walk this very hard journey.


  3. That’s the reason why I’ve not been in a church for so many years. Someone tried to invite me to church again last week… true, they discerned the ‘bitterness’ in my heart that’s keeping me away… but this article points to the crux of the matter. THESE are ‘people of faith?’ *sarcastic laugh* I won’t sully this post by typing exactly what I think about this kind of behavoiour. WHERE IS CHRIST IN THIS?

    Count me out, boah.

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…..”


    1. My thing is you have someone who dedicated most of their waking time when they were not at work or with family to their church. They get sick. They cannot get to church. Who calls? Who visits? No-one seems to care. And it is very very sad, because ‘there but for the grace of God’ go all of us … who knows when it will be our turn next? Thanks for commenting. Hopefully this post will make a difference.


      1. “My thing is you have someone who dedicated most of their waking time when they were not at work or with family to their church. ….Who calls? Who visits? No-one seems to care….”

        Except for the part about being sick, you have hit the nail on the head describing my own church experience. YEARS I was in church and no one was there when the shit hit the fan… except to judge. I hope it does make a difference. All I know is …. I still believe in God. The church? Not as far as I can throw them. (Definitely not the first thing I wanted to type.)


  4. Gale, thanks for sharing and sensitizing us to this disease. I pray that God will continue to strengthen and equip you, your family and caregivers to care for your aunt. This sure is a wake up call for all of us reading of the need to be more sensitive, sensible and be our brother’s keeper. It also begs us to start the conversation as we see the signs and put systems in place to assist our loved ones. Sometimes we are not mobilized to act until we are impacted directly.

    Surely, the information is out there, but until it touches our family, our friends or someone we know……… then we ignore the issue; it is not our problem. Your blog is a wake up call for me……. as I too am seeing the signs, but did not connect the dots. Again, thanks for sharing; God bless…….


    1. Thanks for your blessings and please continue to pray for us. Alzheimer’s is real and it’s not about elderly people happening to forget stuff as a sign of old age. It’s about loss of brain cells and not being able to function as you should as your body starts to shut down. My role now is to alert everyone as best I can to the horror of this disease, especially if it’s affecting someone close to you. Thanks again for commenting; God bless.


  5. Sad but true!!–That disease is a very ‘depressing’ disease to patient, family, and other care givers!! The body is often ‘young and healthy’ looking, while the ‘mind’ is gone!–The ‘afflicted’ often appear to be trapped within that between a strong looking body, and a failed brain. -Unfortunately,human being are notoriously ‘self centered’, and enjoy being critical of each other, always giving themselves the ‘feel good’ edge , over the other!!–This is termed the ‘feel-good’syndrome, because it will tend to lessen their own feeling of inadequacy!!—-The Church is a ‘fertile’ ground for these phenomena to propagate, sadly !!–We must always remind ourselves, that matter not our socioeconomic status, our youthfulness, our beauty, or lack thereof, color, creed, or national origin, we must be ‘our brother’s keepers!–Not only in words, but in practice!-If we continue to disregard this ‘doctrine” we, as the human animal, will, unfortunately, not be on this planet for one million years!!–We are very new to the planet, we have not proven ourselves to be good stewards, to ourselves, or to the planet!!–Our documented sojourn here, so far, is about two hundred and fifty thousand years!, Most other species found on the planet, have been here, for ‘millions of years’, before us, but, we have done the most to disrespect ourselves, our fellowman, and our host planet, ‘MOTHER EARTH’!!——–WOE TO US FOR OUR ‘FOLLY’!——-SAVE YOURSELF, HELP YOUR FELLOWMAN!!!———PEACE AND LOVE!!


  6. My uncle lived alone and spent much of his time running his own business. It wasn’t until the business went bankrupt and some of his more loyal customers came forward and began to tell us all the things they had been witnessing for years: forgotten orders, having him call them multiple times and have the same conversation again and again, times he would leave the office randomly and not come back. . .If we’d known sooner, maybe it would have been better. I don’t know. I wish someone had told us sooner what they saw and noticed.

    He’s 62. I’d say he’s too young for this, but there is no such thing. No one deserves this, whether they are in their 50’s or 118. I am so sorry for what is happening with your aunt.


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