Monday, December 24, 2012


Last week I visited a woman with dementia which has progressed steadily during the nine-plus years I have been at St. Paul's. She is now in a lovely private nursing home and is quite content there. Each time I go she is a little more unfocussed and confused about even the simplest of things. I had to explain that the colourful squares on her table were birthday and Christmas cards. The concept of cards seems to have escaped her. Yet when I read the names of people signed within them she brightened and could often speak the surname just by hearing the first name.

I read the Christmas story from Luke's gospel to her and it was an interesting experience. She kept interjecting as though I was sharing news about the birth of a child to a friend or acquaintance. In a way that is just what I was doing. She has been a life-long Christian, so she knows Jesus' family intimately. "Oh how nice" she offered when Jesus was born, and "oh dear" when the angels got a scare. I have read this passage to people hundreds of times but it made it fresh for me because her dementia made it new to her.

As I write I realize that this was the unexpected gift of a visit to someone suffering from dementia. I have admitted before that I have to do the "self talk" to go and see these folk because I wonder what good can come from it, and I always have other things I could be doing. I'm glad for Dorothy though, and what she offered me.

Recently I read to our bible study a marvellous note from one of pastoral volunteers who wrote the family of one of the persons she visits in a nursing home who has dementia. It was so beautiful I fought back tears as I read it -- and lost the fight! Even though this visitor goes to see Joan on her way home from a busy work day she wrote about the gift she receives from her elderly friend with Alzheimers.

Giving and receiving gifts is an important part of Christmas, wouldn't you agree?



Laura said...

We have friends that lost a baby just days after her very early birth. After an exceptionally painful journey through the first year without Jenna, they decided to honour Jenna each Christmas with a stocking filled with gifts from friends who would have loved to know her...The gifts? Good deeds in her honour....In January we will receive a letter telling us of brothers and sisters working harder at getting along, donations to wonderful charities, smiles offered, helping hands...the ripples of a way too short life out into the world..a life that mattered deeply...
I will visit the Joan you speak of today...and take in trivial gifts to mark the day, and remember the things she loved but my Mom will offer back a simple smile, and maybe one word or two... that I cherish.
Merry Christmas all....

IanD said...

Powerful stuff.

Merry Christmas and humble thanks to both of you.