The article “Praying with Those Who Might Forget: Pastoral Considerations with Memo Impairment,” by Ericka L. Sanborne in Journal of Pastoral Care Counsel, vol. 62, no. 3 (Fall 2008):207-17 reverberated for me.You see my mother is in mid-stage elderly dementia. For me, it has been a long painful journey that began in 2004.Today in 2011 my struggle continues. At the same time, I am grateful my mother is still with me.
In the article, Sanborne notes that ritual is a good way at helping a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient sustain their spiritual life. She says, “Because ritual is communication it could definitely be integrated into or even used wholly as prayer, meeting the needs of someone who might forget by involving more parts of the person’s being than just the thinking aspects. After all, we don’t ‘think’ God nearly as much as we feel, experience, work for, and find hope with God.” (14)
After reading this passage, I suddenly remembered how my own mother went into auto-pilot during a ritual. My mother, father, brother, a friend, and I were at the service that was part of graduation activities for my M.Div. During the service, several people were standing at stations in the sanctuary for communion. I took for granted that my mother would stay seated and not step forward, particularly since she came from traditions where the juice/blood and bread/body were passed along the pews where congregants were seated. Well, I was wrong. Mom often moved suddenly and swiftly. We were all paralyzed because we did not know if she was headed towards something or someone. In this large gathering, we had no idea if she was headed to the door or elsewhere. I was the first to jump up but looked down realizing she went to a station to take her communion. She found her way back to her seat on her own. I was grateful that my mother was still connected to God through the ritual of communion imprinted on her from childhood, even in the midst of ever-increasing suffering memory loss.
That was a beautiful day I will hold onto . . .
Photo by Dianne Glave