A ministry of mind and heart
Peggy Wall stared at the slightly yellowed photograph — unable to identify the young couple getting married at the Good News Baptist Church parsonage 67 years ago in Madison, North Carolina.
Then her son, Tim, put a vinyl record on the turntable, and she listened to the bride and groom say their vows.
When the woman said, “I do,” Wall’s eyes and mind cleared. That was her voice and she was the bride (Peggy Martin) getting married to Tom Wall, the local DJ for the Mayodan AM radio station where they met one Sunday afternoon when her church quartet sang live there.
Tom Wall later worked as the WCOG-AM sales manager. It had been 35 years since Peggy had heard her groom’s voice from the wedding. Tom died unexpectedly in 1985.
Sitting on a sofa at Summerstone Health and Rehabilitation Center with her son, Peggy Wall smiled, looked up and said triumphantly, “I did!” before Alzheimer’s drew the mental curtain down again.
The disease has taken much of her mind but not her hope in Jesus Christ.
Such moments with his mother keep Tim Wall going and motivate him to keep loving, honoring, and helping awaken her soul that disease can’t harm.
“The reason I do things like bringing this record here my dad made and playing it for her for the first time is that I’m looking for my mom,” said Wall, who joined Triad Baptist Church in 2013 with his wife, Cindy.
The Walls have four children. Tim leads the First Line Ministries team that greets guests to Triad services while Cindy serves Sunday mornings in the Kids Street Children’s Church ministry.
“It’s like digging for a vein of gold,” Wall said of playing the record to help his mom reconnect with her past. “You have to keep mining away to find it so that, if for just a moment, she can be freed of what Alzheimer’s keeps largely hidden.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans live with the disease, which is expected to affect as many as 16 million people by 2050.
In North Carolina, Peggy is among more than 170,000 Alzheimer’s patients — a population expected to grow to 210,000 (or 23.5%) by 2025.
Despite this expected growth, North Carolina has extended a multi-year moratorium on creating special care units in nursing and adult care homes — ones specifically designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Numbers like these and their human toll are what drive Tim Wall to both minister to and advocate for those with dementia care.
Last year, the mission took he and his son, Levi, to Raleigh to meet with legislators, and included a Sunday Night Adult Class at Triad that he led full of information about dementia and resources for caregivers.
Shannon Warden, director of women’s ministries and counseling at Triad Baptist Church, spoke to Wall’s class, encouraging caregivers to:
- Take care of yourself and mind your own emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual health so you’re better equipped to serve others.
- Breathe — more deeply and slowly to train your body and calm down — when dealing with caregiving stress.
- Let people help you. “That’s a major part of so many caregivers’ challenges: allowing themselves to allow someone else to help them,” Warden said. “Of course, if you're someone who has no family support, that can take a real emotional toll and is truly a sad circumstance, but don’t let that keep you from receiving help from other non-family members.”
To those, Wall would add:
- Talk now as a family about life transitions and all the financial and other implications and before major health issues start to occur.
- Be supportive as a caregiver but remember that you can’t make someone else happy. “Regardless of the state of the person, their happiness is still their responsibility,” he said.
- Treasure old age and wisdom as a blessing from God. “God did not invent the concept of ‘retirement’ from ministry,” Wall said. “Senior adults have the most wisdom, experience, time and resources so why would they not be a vital part of any church’s ministry?”
- Know God’s future is bigger than today’s pain. “As it says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, what we see is temporary but what we can’t see is eternal,” Wall said.
- Be proactive and trust your instincts in healthcare decisions. “You know your loved one best so be proactive and advocate for them,” Wall said. “If the doctor says something that you don’t think is best, trust your gut, voice that concern, and, if necessary, change course.”
With the aging of the Baby Boom further swelling the numbers and human cost, Wall is glad to be doing his part to bring awareness and Christ’s love to his mom. Given the disease’s personality-altering effects, Wall counts it a special blessing that his mother has maintained her charitable disposition through Alzheimer’s.
He traces his respect for senior adults and heart for their needs back to a grandmother and handwritten notes of scripture and other encouragement that he received as a student at Kentucky Christian University and, later, at Wheaton College Graduate School.
After earning his degrees in Christian Education, God added to his heart for senior adult ministry through service as a chaplain at a long-term care center in Atlanta, Georgia.
“It’s a group of people and a ministry I care deeply about,” Wall said. “I just try to be a conduit and point people to resources that can help. These are people who have done so much for us, and need to be validated.”
Before he took his mom back to her room at Summerstone, he asked her to pray with him and a visitor. The curtain of Alzheimer’s lifted and the prayer and its beautiful words flowed freely.
For that moment, her heart again led a familiar conversation in Jesus’ name — a name Peggy Wall never seems to forget.
Help for caregivers
The Senior Services Inc. Help Line is a resource for finding transportation, meals and nutrition, housekeeping, sitters and personal care, home modifications, housing, nursing home placement, recreation, volunteer opportunities, and more.
The Shepherd’s Center of Kernersville offers transportation, counseling, respite care, visitation, handyman services, equipment loans, advocacy, and more.
Crisis Control Ministry in Kernersville provides emergency food, medicine, financial and other need-based assistance after verification by its volunteers.