Updated: Aug 15
The year was 2012, and it hadn't been long since I came back from America having gone to church for the first time, now wondering whether God really did exist. Out of the blue, my grandma called my Dad. She told him that my mum had been beaten at the shops. It turned out to be completed untrue. That night my grandma pasted newspaper over her window and told her neighbours that they needed to do the same or the enemy planes would see the light and drop bombs on the city. The next day she was admitted to the local hospital and soon transferred to the dementia ward.
My emotions were a mess. I carried a deep burden of guilt that I had never loved my grandma as well as I should have. She had left China to come to Australia, where she never really mastered English and spent much of her time looking after me as a child. I had accepted ungraciously all that she had done for me. I never sought the opportunity to do anything for her, even to take time to listen to her. My lack of mastery of Chinese weighed heavily on me, especially at the thought that I didn't really know my grandma at all. My feelings were thrown into a deeper turmoil when around this time. I discovered that her husband had committed suicide during the cultural revolution, leaving my widowed grandma with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. My grandma never remarried, because she didn't think this would be in the best interest for her daughters. I lay awake at night, haunted by the fact that this was a woman who had sacrificed everything for everyone else, and it seemed now too late to give her anything meaningful in return.
I felt the only trivial token I could offer my grandma now was to visit her at the hospital. But I was paralysed by the thought of confronting her dementia. At this time, I was struggling to believe that God existed, but in my desperation, I cried out in my mind, "God if you are there, help me have the courage to go!" Not really understanding how to read the Bible, I flipped it open to a random page hoping for inspiration, I stumbled on a verse mentioning something about God's grace towards widows. There was a flicker of courage mingled with scepticism, but I didn't pause to ask questions, a flicker of courage would have to do. I jumped in the car and drove to the hospital.
That first visit, my grandma was in a bad state of paranoia because of her dementia. She told me to go away because it wasn't safe for me to be with her because of the "fighting and the poison". When I tried to stay, she hit me in her desperation to make me leave. Shocked, I went into the hallway and cried and cried. The nurses brought me a box of tissues, and I wondered how I would ever muster up the courage to visit again.
The next week I was even more terrified. Again, I cried out to God for courage and flipped the Bible open randomly. Once more, a flicker of courage. I jumped on it and went. Again and again, God answered a doubter's prayers for courage. And I started to think: if God has control over my courage, maybe he is real and has power in my life.
By 2013 my grandma had been moved to a nursing home specialising in dementia care. Slowly, God taught me that it would be by his power and love rather than by my own ability to muster up courage or affection that I would be able to keep visiting my grandma. At the same time, he showed me that my guilt would not be lifted by my own atoning actions, but by the grace of Jesus Christ, who died for my sins on the cross. In 2014, I was baptised as Christian and began to be aware that the most important thing my grandma needed was faith in Jesus, and this was still something I had the opportunity to offer her. Regularly, my grandma would be full of fear to eat because her food might be poisoned. At other times, she was afraid to go to certain parts of the nursing home because people might beat her. I knew only faith in Jesus could put her intense fear of death to rest, but her dementia seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle to faith.
One Sunday, I met a lady visiting her sister at the church. I don't know how we got onto the topic of my grandma, but she said to me in a deeply earnest tone: "do not give up sharing Jesus with your grandma. My grandma had dementia before she passed away, and I kept telling her about Jesus and praying for her. About a month before she passed away there was one day when her mind was miraculously lucid, and she said to me, 'I remember that when I was six, my nanny said to me that when Jesus walks in the room all the other gods have to bow to him.' And she believed in Jesus." I was amazed. God could use one thing, and what one person said when she was six years old to bring a person with dementia to faith? Maybe God might use one small thing to bring my grandma to faith too.
I started printing out parts of the Bible in large print Chinese and bringing them when I visited my grandma. I could barely read Chinese myself, but my grandma could, at least on the days when she wasn't hearing voices or paranoid about something. Eventually, I printed and bound the whole gospel of Luke. On some visits, she wouldn't read with me at all. During other visits, she would read a paragraph. If I was lucky, we might read a page before the voices took over again. I started to self-study Chinese so that I could read to her more. In those first couple of years, I visited her every week, and we only got through the first few chapters of Luke.
In 2016 and 2017, I suffered burnout as well as starting my first years of very time-consuming full-time teaching. I could barely visit my grandma except for four times a year on school holidays. In that time, God taught me to lean on my prayers and to trust that he would be at work through my prayers when I couldn't physically go to read the Bible with my grandma. I applied for a part-time load in 2018 and asked every praying friend I knew to pray for me. The school um-ed and ah-ed about the application, but in the end, God graciously provided, and I was finally freed up to visit my grandma once a fortnight. Suddenly, we were reading whole chapters of Luke, sometimes two. Luke finished, we read John. When John was finished, we read a Chinese gospel track that I enlarged for my grandma. The gospel track finished, we started reading Acts.
2020 was the year of COVID-19, and I didn't dare visit my grandma for quite a while for fear of bringing the virus to the nursing home. Everyone with elderly relatives in nursing homes was wondering whether they might never see their loved ones again before they passed away. It was on my mind whether I would ever know where my grandma's faith stood. Did God use one verse from a book somewhere somehow to lead her amid her dementia to faith? I might never know, but I was at peace, knowing she had the opportunity to hear the gospel, and I trusted God with the rest.
July 2020, my grandma went into palliative care, and we made plans to visit her one last time. I was worried about feeling emotionally fragile, so I desperately hoped my husband would be able to come in with me. The nursing home said "no" due to COVID-19 precautions they could not make any exceptions to the "one visitor at a time" rule. To make matters worse, we had planned to go in the morning before an afternoon appointment with the internet technician, but the nursing home couldn't let us go until the afternoon when results from her COVID-19 test could be confirmed. "Lord, do I have to go alone?" I thought. Coincidentally, the internet technician came in the morning, so we were both free in the afternoon. Just before the visit, I realised I had made a potentially time-consuming mistake in my work that I had desperately wanted out of the way. In distress, I cried out, "Lord, why did you let me make this mistake when I am most weak and vulnerable?" On the drive to the nursing home, I wrestled with the Lord. I knew I needed to repent; things weren't going according to my plans, and I wanted to blame God. But I needed to remember God's goodness and love, and trust that he was in control even now. My heart was at peace by the time we arrived.
I went in first to see my grandma and then my husband. I was surprised that I ended up spending about 45minutes with her. I was amazed that I felt very emotionally stable and even more surprised by my grandma's peaceful demeanour. Furthermore, while I was in my grandma's room, two friends independently texted to say they were praying for me. And soon after, while I was waiting for my husband, my colleague returned my call, and my potentially time-consuming mistake was resolved without needing further work. Praise God! His fingerprints were all over the day. I was deeply comforted by all the coincidences that demonstrated his presence and sovereign care.
When my husband came out, we discovered that we had both asked my grandma whether she believed and trusted in Jesus and she had said "believe" to me and "I believe" to him. I was always cautious of mere verbal affirmations of faith, especially from someone with dementia. Still, we were greatly encouraged as we reflected on all the other signs that backed up my grandma's profession of faith: her paranoia had substantially decreased; her willingness to read the Bible had significantly increased; most importantly she had said "I am going to die" but displayed no fear of death but was instead spending her last few days thanking all the nurses. We drove home, praising God loudly.
My grandma passed away a week later. It was on my birthday. And as I saw the news of my grandma's death in a text that morning, an unusual ecstatic joy filled my heart. "Yes, Lord! You are right! It is a day of new life!"