A new documentary challenges prevailing beliefs about people with Alzheimer’s and illustrates their capacity to communicate.
A new documentary challenges prevailing beliefs about people with Alzheimer’s and illustrates their capacity to communicate.

Sometimes a story comes across our path that causes us to think differently about a problem. The story of Gladys and Naomi, in which two women broke through a barrier that seemed impossible to breach, is one of these.

Gladys has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and lives in a care facility. Naomi visits her regularly. Gladys’ ability to communicate deteriorated to such an extent that she appeared unable to do so.

In a moving and thoughtful video we see Naomi sometimes gently, sometimes vigorously singing the Christian hymns she knows Gladys loves to hear and feels comforted by. But more than this is the way that Naomi sings them – in a way that truly connects the two of them together in one consciousness. “For a moment we become as one,” says Naomi.

The video is a clip from the documentary, There is a Bridge,  that challenges prevailing beliefs about the disease and illustrates the unrecognized capacity of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias to maintain emotionally meaningful relationships.

What is so touching about this particular story is that Naomi is Jewish. She sings these hymns out of love for Gladys, and Gladys obviously feels that love. They clearly communicate.

But this is more than a story about two women singing hymns. It’s about how we see one another. Naomi was not overwhelmed with the diagnosis or the vacant look on Gladys’ face. Instead, it seemed to me that Naomi was filled with such love and compassion that she saw through to Gladys’ need to feel loved and valued.  And, at the end of the video, that is what comes through to me – two women communicating, united in their love for God and each other.

This goes to the very heart of how we think about consciousness and mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. We have come to accept that diseases such as Alzheimer’s are irreversible and that the cognitive decline of the sufferer is inevitable. And yet – there are individual stories such as this one with Gladys and Naomi that give us hope, and encourage us to question whether these prognoses are as inevitable as we think.

If these two women can communicate through a love that transcends our human view of it, isn’t it possible that other aspects of this disease could also be reversed through this love?

Beyond our limited views of love is the divine affection that has the potential to reach our innermost being and awaken that which we think is lost. The Jewish prophets that are a part of Naomi’s faith taught that real communication begins with a conscious connection to God, and they practised that in what we call prayer. The Jesus Gladys learned to follow continued this practice, teaching his followers to pray in ways that connected people directly and practically to divine Love. This healed those considered lost in mental illness. As one account indicates, a man was restored to his “right mind.”

Today, the subject of consciousness is gaining much attention. Many neuroscientists, investigating the matter-based nature of the human brain, believe that it is purely physical. But there are those in the medical and scientific community who feel this is a limited, inaccurate view. Dr. Eben Alexander, for example, is a neurosurgeon whose near death experience completely changed his ideas about consciousness. In his two books about this experience and his investigation as to what it all means, he describes consciousness as all-encompassing, pure love.

As we begin to explore this spiritual perspective of consciousness  rather than accepting current mental health diagnoses and treatments, we can take a big step towards challenging the inevitability of mental decline. We can feel and experience the presence of that divine Love that is consciousness itself. That’s what Gladys and Naomi have begun to discover.

This article was published in the Vancouver Sun on July 6 2015 HERE