Today I spent some time with a congregation member who recently moved into a nursing facility for those dealing with dementia. The last time I saw her was before the move and she was looking drawn, sad and seemed very confused. Today when I walked in a smile spread across her face and she said, "There's my minister." While it was probably the case that she could not remember my name, I was pleasantly surprised that she recognized me at all.
In the small room she now occupies she is surrounded by her belongings and pictures of family and friends. The nursing staff that stopped by during my visit were very pleasant, seemed glad to meet me, and expressed joy at knowing my congregation member. She told stories of jokes, fun times, and field trips she has already shared with fellow residents and members of the staff.
During the time that we spent together she barely stopped talking. She was more full of joy than I had ever seen her. It seems clear that the place where she currently lives is a place that is life-giving. At one point during our conversation she referred to a friend who "also has Alzheimer's, just like me." I was particularly pleased to hear that there was no shame associated with her diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. It was just a fact of life that wasn't going to stop her from living.
This visit definitely gave me hope. (Isn't it often the case that we go with the intent to give something to someone else and end up walking away having received a gift?) That all places ~ our homes, our churches, our care-giving facilities ~ could be places that foster life. What a world that would be!