25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Last night I was privileged to lead a Memorial Service at Northaven (Turramurra, NSW). We remembered those residents who had died in the past year. This was attended by relatives or friends of 11 of those residents, as well as current residents, staff, visitors and volunteers.
I thought that I would share my “Word of Hope” with you, my faithful readers. May it help you to see why I have such a passion for ageing and dementia.
A Word of Hope
In 2009 God called me out of Parish ministry into Aged Care. I announced it to my congregation with the words: “I am becoming a Uniting Church Ageing Chaplain”. Some of the people thought that was very funny: “an ageing Chaplain” – as if they weren’t ageing too! Can I say that since I started here in July 2009 – almost 9 years ago – I have seen a lot of ageing!
One of the problems of working in full-time Aged Care is that I don’t meet our residents when they are full of life and vigour. If a person doesn’t have significant care needs they simply can’t come into the Hostel. The Nursing Home is full of residents who are frail, palliative, or living with end-stage dementia. That’s the nature of aged care. We are all living longer, with all of the health problems that go with age. As the old joke says: “I will never be over the hill. I’m too tired to climb the hill!”
Some people come to the Hostel or Nursing Home kicking and screaming. Others come placidly and peacefully. Some don’t understand where they are, while some fully understand and make a conscious decision to make the most of it. Some will settle quickly into their new home, while others will struggle.
I can’t remember what it was like when you – if you’re a resident – or your loved one first came to Northaven. I DON’T know how long it took for you, or for them, to settle in.
As I look at the list of names on our list I DO know that each resident, in their own way, endeared themselves to others – staff, residents, visitors, volunteers. I remember dear one resident complaining every Wednesday morning that she couldn’t go to Worship because she hadn’t had breakfast! Another greeted me with a winning smile every single visit – when sometimes she didn’t even smile at her husband. A third resident, because she was so mentally alert and so generous in spirit, touched everyone’s hearts. These are precious memories of precious people.
Many of our residents, particularly in the Nursing Home, are living with dementia. Dementia is challenging to all of us, because the person is slowly entering a world of their own – “the land of forgetfulness” as Eileen Shamy called it. Their memory fades, their behaviour can change, they lose the ability to speak, and eventually their physical functions diminish. They need help with showering and dressing, with toileting, and with eating. People who were once so independent become totally dependent on others. It’s a challenge.
As I think about each of the residents on this long list, I am reminded again and again of how much they have taught me. So it isn’t true that you can’t teach an old dog – or an ageing one – new tricks!
The first thing most of these residents have taught me is the value of living in the present. Many could not remember their past, though we saw occasional glimpses of it. Their future was predetermined – Northaven was their final home. I remember once asking a dear resident on her 100th birthday: “What is the secret to living to 100?” She looked at me and said “I haven’t died!”. Ask a silly question … Many of our residents are living with dementia, and dementia is a terminal illness. In fact it’s now the leading cause of death for Australian women, and the second leading cause of death overall.
Most of residents on the list lived in the present moment. They lived in the NOW. They trusted others to provide for them in lots of different ways. They responded with love to those who showed them love. They weren’t burdened by the past, nor were they worried about the future. They simply lived in the NOW – and that was enough.
That’s what Jesus Himself tells His disciples to do in the Gospel of St. Matthew. “Don’t worry about tomorrow”, Jesus says. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”: clothing, food, drink, companionship, and peace. Trust God – for He will provide all your needs, according to His riches.
On another occasion, Jesus’ disciples ask him about prayer. He responds: “When you pray, pray like this: Our Father, who are in Heaven … Give us this day our daily bread”. What Jesus is saying that God our Father will give us the bread we need for that day – bread to eat, the companionship of those with whom we can eat, and so on. Jesus urges us to live in the now – to live for today. Jesus invites us to trust God in the here and now.
The famous words from the film “Dead Poet’s Society” are Carpe Diem: Seize the Day! Make the most of each day. Remember, it’s called the present, because it is a gift – a present!
The second thing each resident on the list has taught me is the value of care. Each resident needed and deserved care, and at Northaven we were privileged to provide it. That is, after all, God’s call: “To love our neighbour as we love ourselves”, to quote Jesus’ 2nd Great Commandment. Each resident reminded me that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” – because I had to give to them. But as I gave, I did receive: their smile, their affection, their love.
At the end of every single Worship service in the Nursing Home I walk around the room and bless every person by name. Many smile. Some kiss my hand. Some say: “Thank you”. One sings: “Jesus loves me, this I know”. Some will say: “And God bless you” – and my spirit soars and my heart sings, because I am truly blessed.
My friends, ageing and dementia are challenging to us all, but every resident has much to teach us. They – you – can teach us how to live with God in the moment – the present – the NOW. And they – you – can teach us the value of care – that we are blessed to be able to care for others, and blessed to have the humility to receive care.
Today, God invites us to live with Him in the present moment – and to journey with Jesus each and every day. God invites us to care for our fellow pilgrims on life’s journey, for we do not walk life’s road alone. So, may we “do unto others as we would like them to do unto us”, always remembering the truth that Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life … for many” (Mark 10:45).
So may we be blessed, to bless, this day, and forevermore.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN.