As a pastor, I enjoy visiting parishioners in their homes and hearing their stories. I am a “people” person so this comes relatively naturally for me. One area of visitation where I must be more disciplined, though, is going to nursing homes and visiting with those who may no longer be able to respond in conversation. Last Saturday I visited two members of my congregation who have Alzheimer’s. From what I have heard about both of these individuals they led very full lives and were a lot of fun to be around. I wish I known them before this dreaded disease invaded their lives, both because I think my life would have been enriched by their presence and also because it might give me a better point of entry in conversation. I’ve visited both of these folks before and it is difficult to watch their personalities fade. I can only imagine how hard this must be for their family and friends.
I am not sure that either of these individuals even knew I was there, but I talked with each of them for a few minutes about their families and some of the happenings at the church. I prayed with them and reminded them just how very much God loves them and then I left. Even if they weren’t aware that I was in the room, I know that visits mean a lot to their families. A visit says that the person is a worthwhile individual, a beloved child of God. And of course, visiting the sick is something that Jesus told us to do. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25: 37 – 40 NRSV).
Visiting the sick can be difficult, but when I remind myself of these things, somehow it makes it a little easier. Until next time … peace.
One of the things I found to be helpful in visiting with those who suffer from dementia is to say the Lord’s Prayer with them and to sing. The oldies are best. It’s amazing how those two things can stay with one even when it seems the clouds of mindlessness have won.
Sometimes the response is obvious and they pray or sing along, and sometimes it’s just a glance or a hand squeeze. I also do this with coma patients.