Visiting an old friend
I was back in a former parish recently and with some time to spare I decided to call on a family who had been very supportive during my time there. I was welcomed warmly by the man of the house who was delighted to see me and he brought me straight in to the living room where his wife of fifty four years of marriage was watching TV. I greeted her but got no response. Her husband said She doesn't know anyone now father, in fact she doesn't utter a word.
Joan (not her real name) was diagnosed three years ago with dementia. Until that time she was an active woman, a mother of five grown children and proud grandmother of 13. She was a warm and vivacious personality in whose home every caller was sat down to a feast of home baking, she was active in the parish community serving in the Society of St. Vincent DePaul for many years, a popular and much loved figure.
I tried to connect with her that day but no amount of coaxing brought the slightest response. Her husband has recently made the decision to allow her to go to a nursing home as his health is straining under the burden of her care, and while he hates the thought he knows in his heart that it is the best thing for her. I came away sad that day, but glad to have seen such love in action.
Dementia is a cruel disease, someone we know and love gradually disappears before our very eyes and while there in body is not really present in any meaningful way. It must be one of the most difficult illnesses for a family to be faced with, hard to make any sense of for all involved.
God in Jesus has identified himself with every human person who suffers, in fact you could go so far as to say that Christian faith does not mean much to those without an experience of suffering in some way shape or form. Suffering is the starting point, it's what makes prayer and relationship with God important. We never suffer alone, we are aligned with God, the God who chose to stand in solidarity with all the broken.
Suffering is inescapable, but suffering never has the last word, life and love have the last word. At every celebration of the Mass we walk with Jesus through his cycle of suffering, sacrifice and death to newness of Risen life in God. We experience in every Mass the fulfilment of God's promise of redemption. For that reason the life of prayer and the Sacraments can be for the dementia sufferer and caregiver a lifeline of hope.
In the Eucharist Jesus comes to be present to us and in the end that is the most valuable gift we can give to one another, presence. We do not need hi tech skills or gadgets just the ability to be welcoming and listening, to sing songs and clap hands to have a childlike willingness to be there totally for another.
St. Mary's Lucan