In the memory of God

Many of us at some time face the dilemma of how best to care for elderly parents.

Moving out of the family home, leaving 40 years of memories, losing independence are all experiences that can lead to great anguish of heart. We have all heard stories of elderly folk in a nursing home wanting to go home. It is distressing for the person themselves. They often don’t understand why they are in a strange place, being told what to do by strange people.

It is distressing for the family, to see their loved mum or dad, once so strong, now so feeble and confused. It is distressing for the staff, constantly seeking the best way to care for a person they have great respect for, yet needing attention for their most basic needs.

One of our aged care chaplains, Ben Boland, tells the story of Mary. Mary was a Christian woman who had been active in her church. Dementia had progressed to the point that Mary was no longer able to cope at home. Her husband, Bill, had tried as hard as he could to care for her at home but in his own frailty, Mary’s needs were more than he could cope with. Bill made the hard decision to entrust Mary to the care of others. He saw Mary every day. Their children and grandchildren visited every weekend. On every visit, Mary told them she wanted to go home. Every visit, the family gently explained how difficult that would be. Bill always left with tears in his eyes. Mary never remembered the doctors’ clear explanations that she was in the best place for now.

One thing Mary did remember day after day and each week was that there was a prayer meeting and a Bible study group in her new home. It gave her great joy each morning at 10 o’clock to meet with five other residents to pray. They prayed for each other. They prayed for the staff. They prayed for other residents. They prayed for their families. They prayed for world events.

During these times Mary did not feel confused. She was not anxious. She was not angry. Mary was spending time with her Lord and with his people. In these times she was doing something familiar. In these times Mary had purpose. At one point Mary asked her prayer group to pray about her going home. Her friends prayed that the Lord would make his will for Mary very clear.

Later that day Ben arrived in Mary’s room for a pastoral visit. “Oh, Ben,” Mary said, welcoming him. “I’ve had such a wonderful answer to prayer.” Ben was curious. Mary told him about the prayer group praying for the Lord’s direction about her going home. Fearing that Mary may have developed a false sense of hope, Ben asked her to go on. “When I came back to my room after we prayed, the doctor was here. He told me that I couldn’t go home. I am receiving the best care possible right here. Isn’t that wonderful, Ben? There we were, praying about this, and the Lord gave me an answer almost immediately. I’m very happy here, and now I know it’s what the Lord wants for me, I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Providing opportunities for Mary to continue to connect with God and his people recognises her as a person, created in God’s image. It reminds her, and others, that she continues to live, as John Swinton says, “in the memory of God.”


Feature photo: Timothy K Hamilton