About once a month, I take mom to church with me. She can’t tell you the name of the congregation or the names of the friendly people in the pews who greet her so warmly. It’s like being a first-time visitor each time she comes, as she asks me questions about what to expect. But once the service begins, everything falls into place. She sings along with the hymns, recites the Lord’s Prayer, receives Holy Communion, etc. I’m always glad to worship beside her.
My mindset, I confess, is often focused on what she receives when she goes to church. Did the music touch her heart, did receiving the Sacrament seem meaningful to her, did she recognize prayers and litanies?
How often do I focus on what she brings to the congregation, what gifts she shares? Yeah… the very things I talk about and write about. Still, I admit, so often I’m caught up in the needs of the moment (can she read the words on the screen? Does she need the restroom, is the pew comfortable enough, etc.) that I can forget that her presence adds something to the Body of Christ. Today, she reminded me and my friend that she has something to share.
It happened during the Passing of the Peace. In our congregation, this occurs about 2/3 through the service when everyone stands, mingles, and greets those nearby. Mom always enjoys this part of the service, and I enjoy seeing her in conversation with the community members I love. Today, several friends had already shaken mom’s hand and exchanged warm words, when “Friend” approached us. “Friend” was smiling and giving off warm, friendly vibes. “Friend” is a sensitive person who reaches for mom’s hand and looks her in the eye as she greets her. “Friend” and mom exchanged smiles and warm greetings then as “Friend” stepped back, mom said softly “Don’t worry. It’s gonna get better.”
“Friend” and I locked eyes. Mine filled with tears and I think hers did too. Everything about our interaction had been joyful. Why these words from mom?
“Friend” is grieving the recent loss of loved ones. Yes, plural, loved ones. And she shares in common with mom the early death of a beloved spouse. But mom wouldn’t know any of this. Given her current dementia realities, even if I had pointed out “Friend” ten minutes earlier and told mom these things, it would be highly unlikely that mom would be able to recall them. And yet… mom’s words were like a whisper from the Divine, like a message delivered by the Spirit to encourage “Friend” or to encourage me…
We will never know why those words came from mom’s lips during the Passing of the Peace today. But “why” doesn’t matter. The fact is that mom passed peace to us. She was the one offering the gift and we received it. People with dementia are not just objects and are not just recipients. Our neighbors with dementia are not “gone” or “absent.” Yes, they are changed by the effects of the disease, but they are still human beings, children of God. They still have gifts to share… a tune they hum, words they speak, a simple smile or the warmth of their hand touching yours.
Thanks, mom. You made our day much better than it had been. And thank you, “Friend” for responding so warmly to mom’s comment, helping us to the car after the service, and sharing your friendship in so many ways.
Maybe others need to hear it too. Friends, “Don’t worry. It’s gonna get better.”