I Am Not a Child……….

One of the most difficult things I face in my new position is listening to other staff members talk to the senior adult residents as if they were children. Yes, they have problems remembering things. Yes, sometimes their behavior seems childish or absolutely non-rational. However, they are still people. They are beings created in the image of God and deserve respect and dignity. They do not deserve to be talked down to or treated as if they are juvenile delinquents.

It is bad enough that they have lost their freedom. It is bad enough that they have to struggle to function and grasp why that are denied access to their rooms or limited in the decisions they can make. It is bad enough that they no longer can control some of their bodily functions and/or have difficulty in speaking. They do not deserve to be drugged, lied too, and/or treated with lack of respect.

So what do I do? I cannot judge or correct. I do not have the right and I do understand the stress that caregivers for people with dementia face. So, I pray. I try to model a different way of treatment. I make sure that I do not fall into an attitude of superiority. I seek to show love and respect at every chance I get. I seek to help and never to hurt of diminish the dignity of those who I have the privilege to serve.

I have made a discovery. I have been given a treasure. The people I minister to with dementia are some of the most loving, caring, honest people I have ever encountered. They have a spiritual nature that is seeking and willing unlike many church members I have encountered. They are deeply thankful when I listen to them. They are profoundly grateful for prayers and attention. They also have the ability to care for one another. They are not children, but they can be very childlike in the manner Jesus told us we all should be. I am so looking forward to visiting them when they are fully restored in our life that is and is yet to come.

I Do Remember God….

Today was a good day at the resident dayroom. I have been encouraging the residents to join me in observing the morning office. I had a group of nine that were very involved and aware as we practiced verbal prayer and Scripture. Most of those who participate are in the middle stages of dementia. Most of them will not remember their participation by the time afternoon rolls around. I always remind them that they might not remember but God does.

After the time of prayer I sit around with a group of five residents and talked with them about God and prayer. I understand that it is not wise to ask those who are suffering with dementia too many questions (questions can call confusion and it all draws their attention to there cognitive disability) so just use words like God, prayer, Bible, or some other faith related word and let them respond as they like. I have developed a close enough relationship of trust with these residents that they are willing to express themselves knowing that I will listen and not judge.

I started off with the statement. I remember when I began to realized there is a God. A couple of the residents began to talk about their memories of Sunday School. Another stated that she realize there was a God when God answered her prayer. She then stated, “In fact, that is when I feel closest to God.”

We spent forty-five minutes in verbal ping-pong over matters of God, faith, and love. My heart was blessed. I can remember when it was difficult to get a church member to talk five minutes about their faith. I am finding that being a spiritual director/life enrichment assistant to people with dementia to be more rewarding to my life than I ever felt as a “professional minister.”

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Amen.

I Cannot Remember, I am Afraid

She kept repeating, “I am so confused! I cannot remember! I am afraid!” She was near panic. She had not been this confused in a long time. She could not remember where she was. She would ask me this. I would answer and then she would ask me again, and again. Such can be the state of her reality when her dementia became cruel and unsettling. She was afraid she would forget who she was.

All I could think to do was to tell her that even if she forgot who she was, God would not ever forget her. This made her stop and think. She is very old. She is 94 years old. She has no one left. He dementia is not constant. She has good days and bad days. She can be very articulate and is always polite and caring, even when facing the fear she was facing now.

Reminding her of God’s love is the only thing that seems to help when these episodes arise. She is a woman of faith. She misses taking Eucharist. I am considering giving it too her even though my ordination is with a denomination that does not hold to the sacramental nature of this ritual that I have come to embrace. I am too old to pursue the path for recognition of orders or ordination in another mainline denomination. I have about decided that the concept of apostolic session is more man-made than God sanctioned. I know God has called me to pastoral care and the celebrant role even though I do not have the sanction of a bishop to authorize me to bless the elements as they become the living mystery that is the body and blood of our Lord.

But this dear saint needs the sacrament and in the age of ‘Covid no priest or elder can be present in the bubble in which she lives. There is only me. I seek discernment as to how I should proceed.

I pray with her. I start a word game with the other residents. She becomes involve and the fear and panic ends for now. This darkness will return. I will do my best to help her get ready. We will again talk of the day in which Jesus will return, if it just for her. She has hope. Somehow I know it will be enough.

Amen.

Desolation

The quick definition of the word desolation is, a state of complete emptiness or destruction and/or anguished misery or loneliness. Spiritual desolation is when one feels empty of spiritual help and or a misery that pushes one toward the darkness of depression.

Ignatius of Loyola understood desolation to be an attack of the Enemy of human nature. Ignatius defines desolation as the soul being disturbed and agitated, “without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord.”

I have lost several battles with spiritual desolation and continue to struggle with it often in my life. Having an understanding what it means to be in a state of desolation helps some with the struggle. I have found my awareness of my entering a state of desolation helps this dreaded state from pushing me to near ultimate despair as it has in my past. Understanding and awareness of the presence of desolation keeps me from acting in a non-rational manner and from being as self-destructive in attitude and action as I used to be. Still, the struggle is just that, a strenuous and suffering in a spiritual struggle.

Ignatius, in his rules for the discernment of spirits, writes, “there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate. The first is because we are tepid, slothful or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us. The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces. The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation.” I have found that the reason I end up in spiritual desolation is probably the first cause. As much as I try, I find it difficult in our world of deceptions, distractions, and delusions to maintain some of the spiritual practices I so desire. Even though I love God, desire God, and seek to be in God’s will I fall and fail time and time again.

So what do I do when I once again find myself in a state of spiritual desolation? I pray. I pray the Jesus prayer over and over.

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”

I also refuse to make decisions that require change, retreat from foolish illusions of joy, and I retreat from any anticipations other than knowing that the desolation will end. When I do not know, but it will end.

I now work with people who face not only spiritual desolation but physical, mental, and emotional desolation as well. It is their world. I see them and suddenly realize my desolation is not nearly as bad. The people I work with are basically prisoners. They cannot go and come as they want because the reality they live in is not an accepted reality to those who live without the struggle of dementia. The people I work with also love God, but there are times they forget who God is and so maintaining spiritual disciplines is not a reality for them. There are times they forget who they are or even where they are. Yet, these folks too, in times of lucidness, understand that this desolation will end. Many of them hold on to one hope as long as their minds allow them to do so in the midst of their suffering. They hold on to the hope of the resurrection.

I am beginning to realize that perhaps I am not helping them nearly as much as they help me.