Chaplet Calms Early-Onset Alzheimers Patient

By Marc Massery

Denise Sleeper's husband, Scott, kept losing things. His wallet, his keys, his sweatshirt. A friend asked Denise, "Is Scott ok? Because he keeps repeating himself."

Once, Denise asked Scott to put a meatloaf in the oven when the timer went off while she went to take a bath. "It was a simple direction," she said. "But when the timer went off, he came banging on the door in a complete panic saying he didn't know what to do."

At age 48, Scott was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. "It completely blindsided our family," Denise said. "For about a year, I continued working and really tried to figure out how we were going to stay afloat financially, emotionally, and spiritually, and navigate this disease."

About a year into Scott's diagnosis, Denise said that the medications he was prescribed started losing their effectiveness. Scott could no longer stay alone unsupervised. Denise left her job to take care of Scott full time and downsized their home to save money. "I had to act completely on faith that our needs would be met," Denise said.

The year the Sleepers moved, Scott went from being able to function somewhat independently to losing touch with reality. "He became paranoid and delusional. He couldn't speak and was losing his processing skills," Denise said. "He started interpreting all language as conspiracies against him." Denise and her two teenage boys had to communicate with each other via text. They slept behind locked doors, hid any potential weapons, and notified local police of Scott's medical condition.

By 49, Scott was in a nursing home. Yet, amidst these tragic circumstances, Denise noticed many graces. "His transition was simple. He never remembered not living in a nursing home," she said. Denise even discovered a sense of purpose amidst this trial. She became interested in learning more about end of life care and received a scholarship to take clinical pastoral education classes. "That was a huge turning point in my journey," Denise said.

Denise couldn't deny that the hand of God was leading her. One evening, when she was on call as a chaplain intern, Denise discovered several red Divine Mercy pamphlets at a desk. "The [Divine Mercy] Image melted my heart in a way that I couldn't understand. I just felt it was so profound," she said. "I just felt drawn to this Image, but I kept thinking, 'I'm not Catholic.'" Denise was raised Greek Orthodox.

Around this time, Denise went to a local Catholic Church, St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Wolfboro, New Hampshire, to attend a funeral of another younger man who suffered from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. "I noticed this big Divine Mercy Image on the altar. I thought, 'There's that Image again.' There was something very special about it," she said.

After the funeral, Denise discovered a garden next to the church that contained the Stations of the Cross. "I was just so moved by this pathway. I wound up visiting the Stations of the Cross several times a week," she said. As Denise's faith deepened, she started attending Eucharistic Adoration at that parish. Being Greek Orthodox, Denise assumed that she wasn't allowed to attend Catholic Mass. But one December day, walking the Way of the Cross, she found a piece of paper on the ground. Thinking it was just litter, she picked it up. She soon realized it was a piece of a program from a funeral, which happened to include a message from the parish inviting people of the Orthodox faith to receive Communion. "I was in disbelief," she said. "I called the priest right away." From that moment on, she began attending Mass at that church and has since started the process of becoming Roman Catholic.

Around this time, Denise attended a Catholic retreat through which she learned more about the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

"I wound up saying the Chaplet all the time," she said. "Being with my husband was extremely stressful. He was deteriorating little by little ... but when I learned how to pray the Chaplet, over time I found my anxiety dissipating." Denise often listened to a sung version of the Chaplet and would play it for her husband.

"I can't explain it to people, but [the Chaplet] transformed me. Something was happening," she said.

Near the end, Denise spent hours with Scott as he struggled to breathe. "I just felt the [Blessed Mother] around me," Denise said. "I put the Chaplet on and within about 15 minutes, [Scott] changed. He went from totally struggling and choking to a very peaceful state."

Nurses told Denise that since Scott was young, he would likely continue in this state for weeks. But that same day, she called in a priest who anointed Scott at about 12:30 p.m. Scott died at 3:30 p.m., during the Hour of Great Mercy.

"The time after my husband passed," Denise said, "I just felt Divine Mercy - the message, the Chaplet, everything - completely surrounding me."


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