All of the additional tests confirmed FTD. Ann took the news without comment. Dr Gibson explained that she had a form of FTD called “progressive non-fluent aphasia.” The scans revealed that the left temporal lobe was atrophying at a much faster rate than the right. Treatment would focus on managing the symptoms: speech therapy to develop alternative forms of communication, cardiovascular exercise because “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” regular, extended periods of sleep, antidepressants for anxiety or aggressive behaviour. And, he added, a support group was probably the most important thing.

Ann heard him prattling on but didn’t really listen. Rather the list of symptoms kept playing themselves over and over in her head: slow speech, stuttering, errors in grammar, loss of prepositions, articles, adjectives and adverbs, impaired understanding of complex sentences, possible inability to read or write. Read OR write! It was as if her language would be stripped away one part at a time until she was left with nothing. Eventually she would be mute. Silent. Voiceless. Dumb.

Mark woke her from her inner recitation by touching her arm. “Do you have any questions for Dr Gibson, Ann?”

“No,” she said, but thought, Yeah. Why me?  She stood up. “Let’s go home. Can we, please, just go home now.”  She didn’t even say good-bye to the doctor. She just walked out.

On Sunday Mark noticed Ann wasn’t getting dressed for church. “I don’t feel like going, Mark. But you go.” She was sitting in her favourite rocking chair staring out the window at the gold leaves of autumn. Just before he stepped out of the door he asked her if she’d like him to invite the pastor around some afternoon. Pastor Luke and Ann had been friends for many years. “Yeah, fine,” she answered without looking at Mark.

Luke arrived on Wednesday. “Ann!” he bellowed with enthusiasm when she opened the door. He made her smile despite herself. But it must not have been filled with her usual vibrance, because Luke asked as he came in, “How are you, Ann?”

“Didn’t Mark tell you?” she smirked. “I’m losing my mind!” Then she saw the look on Luke’s face. She started to cry. “I’m sorry, Luke. I’m . . . not good.”  Luke gave her a long embrace, sat her down on the rocking chair and announced he was making some tea.

Two cups later and after a long discourse on the nature of stupid diseases with acronyms like PNFA, Luke asked the big question. “What’s going on in here, Ann?” and he placed his hand over his heart.

Ann put her cup down, leaned back in the chair, closed her eyes and rubbed her hands over her forehead. “I’m . . . afraid. I feel like I am just going to fade . . . My brain is dying more every day and there is absolutely nothing I can do for . . . to save it.”

She looked at Luke and there was a long silence. Then she said with tears welling up in her eyes, “And I’m damn angry! I hate God right . . . now.” She put her hand over her mouth and then slowly took it away. “I’m sorry, Luke. I am so mad at him I could . . . scream. And then I feel guilt for . . . to be mad at God. Then I get angry . . . . Why?” she was crying again softly. “Why is this happen . . . for . . . to me? I was good, and love and serve him, but he lets this happen for . . . to me! WHY?”

Luke handed Ann his hankie and waited. When she was once again somewhat composed, she sighed. “Where is God, Luke? Can you . . . tell me?”

“He’s here. And He knows. There are no easy answers, Ann. I wish there were. I wish I could tell you that everything will be alright, that there is nothing to be afraid of. But I can’t. This is really screwed up. It is damned unfair and it’s wrong. You can be mad at God. Go ahead, yell and scream at him. He can take it! And he understands how you feel. He’d rather you be honest and curse than cover up hate with pretty words. But, Ann,” Luke reached out and took her hands in his own, “ this disease is not something God planned. All sickness and suffering come about because of brokenness. It is a mad, messed up world. Bad things happen to good people. But here is the other thing I can tell you: God loves you and he can take even this most horrible thing and use it for good. He can redeem even this.”

“How, Luke?  How can he redeem this?  Tell me how he can use this for good!”

Luke sat with Ann. Before he left he prayed for her.  And he promised to come visit again.

Ann just sat and Luke’s last words echoed around in her mind: He can redeem even this.  Good luck, God!  she thought.  Good luck!