The work I am getting paid for is to help residents in a memory care facility to have “fuller” lives. My position is called being a life enrichment assistant. With the context of being a life enrichment assistant I am seeking to be a life encouraging assistant (a term I have applied to my openness to providing spiritual direction to the residents I work with). As far as I know there is no training program of path to certification for becoming a spiritual director to individuals who have dementia.
What I am discovering is that the residents I work with have a drive and desire not only to maintain a spiritual life, they want to grow in their spiritual life. Most of them understand that they are not going to get better and that their next phase of life is the life to come. Most do not fear death. Most still grasp their need for God and continually express an interest not only in Christian practices, but how to deepen their practices and to expand their horizons of faith.
Take today for example. This morning I took time to focus on the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer). I say this prayer with the residents daily (usually two or three times during the day). Together the residents worked with me to break down the prayer in a way that helped many of them grasp a deeper meaning of what we are praying. We also talked about how they would likely not remember much of what we talked about due the the way their disability (dementia) works against short term memory. One of the participants made the statement, “I know I will not remember the discussion but I will remember I felt joy this morning as we spent time studying together.” Another resident added, “And when we prayer this prayer we will remember that it is important.”
My position at the place where I work is view and only an appendage to the “real” purpose of the facility which is sold to the consumers who use it as memory care. And while the place I work is by far better than most businesses who make money on taking care of adults who can no longer fully take care of themselves it is still more of an old adult prison that a community of human beings who deserve respect and dignity. Most of the employees are limited in education and/or training. Each day I see the staff (mostly young people in their twenties) treat the residents like children or as a necessary nuisance in order to get a paycheck. This breaks my heart. Also, the philosophy/theory behind how the staff is to deal with residents who become agitated or upset in their situation is to lie to them in order to bring them back to a state of “contentedness.” I cannot follow this path especially since I have seen the spiritual depth and insight the residents possess. So, I will seek to a a clandestine spiritual director and friend to these vulnerable and wonderful people.
The residents want, crave for spiritual stimulation. They enjoy talking about religious experiences and practices of their past. They can still use their past memories to help them cope with their daily struggles and can still have moments of discernment and insights that enable them to acknowledge their love for God and to be servants to one another. Tomorrow we are going to continue exploring the season of Lent we have entered and have discussions on how to practice compassion in the midst of their own struggles and with the struggles put on them through their loss of freedoms and a staff that can seem compassion-less at times.
Please pray for individuals with dementia an for those who care for them, especially the later. Also pray that this country, America, will see the need to reform and rethink how we treat those who struggle with dementia. Thank you.
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