Monday, February 18, 2013

Going against their wishes. . .

People will probably think that I am callous and uncaring but I do not hold much to promises we make to the dying or to those facing loss of memory.  Too often we agree to do things in the rush of emotion and on the spur of the moment -- things we would not agree to do if we had distance to think about it or time to mull it over.  I am not saying we should dismiss the statements people make ("If I am ever in that condition, promise me you will. . . ") but neither should we regard these emotionally laden promises as absolutes.

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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying this.

There is so much bad advice out there. I was reading a parenting magazine years ago. In it an article gave advice on budgeting. It advised readers to stop tithing to their church as a way to have more for other stuff. I was stunned.

Christopher D. Hall said...

Amen, Pr. Peters.

Anonymous said...

She had Alzheimers big time . . .

Drooling, completely unattentive - the classic model.

60 years a member to boot.

I do not know what motivated me, but I took a TLH and made page 15 my devotion with her.

She began reciting the liturgy with me in the middle of the first sentence of Confession. She was there all the way to The Most Holy Sacrament, so I sinned boldly and conswecrated the elements. She took them and finished the liturgy with me, and sang the Cmmon Doxology.

By the time I had cleaned up matters, she had slipped back.

I told my Sr. Pastor about it all, and did the same the next week. He was as amazed as was I.

Sometimes . . . ya just can't know

But color me huge on liturgy.


Rev William Smith Jr said...


Joanne said...

You worked out at 3rd Hill? With a Lutheran chaplain. I went out there on Sunday afternoons and the hospital arranged for time with some of the young children, and later with the older, adult patients for a Sunday school lesson. They loved coming into the special room for the Bible class. The aids rolled those in who couldn't move their own wheel chairs. The children were unable to organize anything cerebral, so we held, rocked, and sang songs. I was told and expected, and then learned it was true that the young children craved hugging and touching, although some could not help but hurt you. There was a head banger who wan't always there, but when he was, I'd hold him so he couldn't do that. It hurts just to see it. And they all wanted holding and I could do that. Some were like little sacks of flour that just layed there with almost no sign of life from them. But, I gave them just as much, but never enough, attention. I talked and held just as if they were active children. I never knew why the 3rd Hill staff chose who would come and it wasn't always the same children, and it was always too many to interact directly with each one before it was time to go. I don't remember a chaplain or anyone in charge of this. I had asked someone out there, I can't remember now (I know page 15 by heart, in case we need to know), but a social worker must have been supervising from a distance. It was mentally rewarding with the older patients because they would respond more with words and talking. I had done this type of activity in Austin at Concordia with a group we called "We who care" organized by Pastor Nau's daughter Carolyn from Hattiesburg, MS. So, although there was no group like that at St. John's Academy/College (gymnasium), I still thought I could do something once I realized what 3rd Hill was and they said I could. I never tried to form a group at St. John's as I was never sure that I was doing things right. I just kept it simple. I understand that 3rd Hill was closed down in the continuing saga of deinstitutionalization. They must have found somewhere to put those non-functional people whose families couldn't handle the stress of caring for such extreme deformities 24/7. I'm glad there was a Lutheran chaplain there with helpers. I was just someone who walked out there and did what I thought might help. You help me now to remember them. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Totally deformed humans were always a challenge to my faith. How could God let this happen, how could he watch and not do. Much later I had occassion to visit the medical school at Tulane U. and entered a large room full of large clear glass containers of every imaginable form of deformity as born and died and saved for teaching specimens at Tulane Medical. That was very hard on my faith. God you are treating us just like animals. We have your image, doesn't it hurt you to do this? I had a dry white spell of unbelief after learning for myself that unbelief was no answer either and led absolutely nowhere near to helping. Sorry to talk so much. 3ed Hill at Winfield, what a blast from the past.