Monday, February 18, 2013
Going against their wishes. . .
Somebody sent me a Dear Abby column in which a friend confessed that she had promised a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer's that when she reached a certain point in the disease "she would not parade around this woman for others to gawk at." Now, that time having come a while ago, this friend is having second thoughts about picking up her friend with memory loss and taking her to church. Should she honor the request the woman made of her and stop taking her to church? Dear Abby said yes. She believed it was a betrayal of trust to have gone against the woman's wishes.
Well, Dear Abby is full of baloney. The woman enjoyed the visits and was not tormented by them. The people at her church were gracious, loving, and caring toward their old friend -- and sensitive toward the woman's condition. So what? This woman is to be consigned to be forgotten in a nursing home just because the woman lived in fear of what is certainly a terrible disease? Is that kinder and gentler to her in her hour of need than to connect her with friends and give her a routine and a diversion from the nursing home?
We have several folks in various stages of memory loss -- some to Alzheimer's and others to another one of the memory maladies that afflict us. The folks in church are gracious and loving. Their kindness is both a support to their families who care for them and an acknowledgement of God's care and kindness. I applaud them for doing all they can to keep up the familiar routines -- especially worship.
And another thing... I have had conversations with Pastors who say that as soon as someone with a memory loss appears not to be fully on top of their game, they cease to give the person Holy Communion. I have great reservations about such judgments and have less than kind feelings toward those Pastors guarding the rail, so to speak. I give them Holy Communion for as long as they are able to eat and drink. I have seen countless evidence of memory sparked by the familiar routine of the Lord's Table and watched as silent lips mouth with me the familiar words of the Our Father. Having worked for a time at a state hospital in Winfield, Kansas, with a generous and loving Lutheran chaplain, I have come to respect the childlike apprehension of the Sacrament that is often the only way those with mental disability or memory affliction are able to commune. I am not sure that we have done any favors by requiring a certain level of intellect before coming to the Lord's Supper. In Luther's day the age of first communion was well below what was usual when I received my first communion and still below the average age today. I have grown much kinder toward the plight of those with developmental disability, those with memory loss, and the children (who often pay far more attention to the words and ritual of the sacrament than the adults who bring them to the table). Certainly the issue of children is a different one than the focus with which I began this post and I want to keep the attention to the issue at hand.
Dear Abby is wrong. Keep bringing them to church. Don't stop until they are clearly unable or unwilling to come and be with their family of faith. It is by far the most loving and compassionate thing we can do no matter what kind of promises we made to them in a weak moment.