As sunbeams irrepressibly shower their joyous light on the world, I welcome the sweet nostalgia of lazy, sun-kissed afternoons spent picking berries for a cobbler and puddle-hopping after a storm. And then I recognize the bitter irony in the fact that as I walk into the building ahead of me, fresh from a stroll down memory lane, I am headed to see one of my church members whose memories have, at best, become impaired, fragmented shards of present and past realities, and at worst, completely non-existent.
I never know what I will find when I enter her room. On a “good” day, I’ll find her–the woman I met when my sweet church first called me. We met when I called to introduce myself and wish her a happy recovery from surgery. As we said “goodbye,” she said “I love you.”
“You do?” I asked, a little tentatively.
“Oh, yes! Honey, you are the answer to our prayers and I love you! Sight unseen, I love you!”
On other days, I find a younger version of her: newly married and worried about her husband, or a few years into parenting a teenaged daughter. In those times, I’m a neighbor or a friend dropping by for a chat, both roles that in some way encompass my work as a pastoral caregiver, anyway.
As God’s mercy would have it, however, in the act of sharing a blessing of prayer and remembering Christ together through Holy Communion, she’s all there and all in, whoever she is. She grasps tightly to my hands in prayer, acknowledging sadly that she can’t physically take the elements anymore because of aspiration risks; graciously accepting, instead, an anointing with a balm I made myself.
And we sit together in silent, grateful prayer that there is still one place where dementia in all its horridness does not get the final say. The joy of the sacred intersects with this sorrow of humanity in Holy Communion, in hands clasped in prayer, in the smell of anointing balm, deliberately crafted with its recipients in mind.
The essential oils of grapefruit, bergamot, and rose perfume the air, leaving a sweet and holy scent that will remain, and remind. And, for a few moments, dementia is rendered ineffective in that place of quiet rest near to God’s own heart.