Thursday, March 29, 2012

On visiting someone with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is a vicious ugly disease. It slowly strips away one's connection with one's memory, which makes it harder to maintain relational connections, one's connection to their history, and to their faith.

As a pastor who visits Alzheimer's patients at times, I can also tell you a very different story. My visits to some folks with limited access to their memories happens to be a grace to me, and helps to ground me and remind me of some very important things in life.

Today I visited Sarah Gordon. She is a member of our church here in United Churches. She fell and broke a few bones. She is recovering at Fall River Hospital.

I like to visit Sarah. My visits don't have to be awfully long. After all, she will not remember how long I visited for anyway! I introduce myself. Each time I introduce myself she is happy to meet a new friend and pastor. It is like meeting a new friend for the first time all over again.

I visit with her for a little bit. One time she tells me she is going to turn 66. A few minutes later she says she is going to turn 77. Since she is in her 90s, I am happy that she believes she is still so young and spry.

We pray a brief prayer. If we pray the Lord's Prayer, she can pick out some of the words and say them when I do. Much like my baby daughter has begun to do with some of the songs I sing her.

I leave. Sarah tells me how glad she is to meet me. I let her know how much I enjoyed spending time with her.

As I leave, I am struck by how Sarah's disease has forced her to live in each moment. Sarah is forced savor or suffer through each moment as if it is the only moment that matters to her. This is because Alzheimer's disease has made this moment the only moment Sarah has.

Maybe we can learn a little from our friends and our families living with dementia or Alzheimer's. Maybe we to need to embrace the moments that we are given, and truly live in those moments instead of longing for the past or being so future oriented that we miss what is going on in the "now". I think if we would let those with Alzheimer's teach us, and let their lives speak to us, we will find we have a lot to learn.

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