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?