Although my father had dementia we continued to minister to him during the closing days and hours of his life. You can imagine how encouraged I was to read the following article from the Spring 2010 “Bits of SonShine” newsletter. The newsletter arrived shortly after my father’s death last March.
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO
by Robert Berray, Fairport, New York
Many times important aspects of ministry to the disabled and elderly are not fully understood. Years ago Judy and I had one of those high impact experiences where every detail still stands out. We were doing a worship service at Kirkhaven Nursing Home in 1999 with about 25 Residents in attendance. Just before we started, a woman wheeled in a man on a gurney; we could see he was unresponsive. Suddenly, I recognized his wife; then realized the man was an old friend I had lost track of long ago. We immediately went over to them. She told us he was in the last stages of advanced dementia and not expected to live long. As we were talking, he suddenly sat up; his face lit up with a big smile and eyes opened wide. Then he sank back down, his last effort of strength. He wife became, literally, delirious with joy. She said he had not responded to anyone for months. It must have been the sound of a familiar voice from the past that awakened something in him. Our friend passed away 5 days later. It was a wonderful blessing for him – for us – and a double blessing for his wife who brought him to his last worship service.
It is important to address this issue for the following reasons; There is a tendency not to minister to people experiencing dementia because a commonly held belief is that “They are not getting it, why bother, it’s a waste of time”. This is a shallow opinion, because the Word of God may very well be reaching their hearts, their souls – apart from their cognitive understanding. Also, in a group setting, even if most do not seem receptive, there may be ONE that may be receiving the message (and probably more than one). We must trust the Lord that His purposes are being accomplished. We are called to go and share the Word in leading a service and/or visitation fellowship. They will receive it as the Lord wills. It is for us, simply, to hear His Call – His Voice, and go to those Nursing Home Residents, families and staff, in faith!”
And it’s not just dementia patients that can benefit from ministry. I remember a pastor telling about a man he visited regularly. Although the man was in a coma, the pastor spoke to him as if he could hear. The man eventually “woke up” and told the pastor that he heard every word spoken to him during those visits.