Today I shared in a funeral for an 81 year old woman who died exactly 21 years to the day, of my dad’s death. Over 10 years ago she was diagnosed with the signs of early dementia. I met her and her husband soon after I started my pastorate with FCC Greeley. They were not members at FCC, but as it was explained to me she loved music and the church where they were attending did not offer much. They would come and sit near the back on my left side. She was always pleasant but right away I noticed the vacant look in her eyes. Soon her husband asked for some time with me and explained what was going on. In my first year there, her condition declined and she went to a memory care facility.
In my 48 years of pastoral ministry this was a familiar story. Each journey is unique but there is a common thread—there are two deaths with this horrid disease: the death of the person followed by the death of the body. To watch a person slip into the abyss of no longer being present, aware, able to engage, remember, recognize and finally to connect, is a slow dive into grief. When the death of the body comes it is usually a gift, and often seen as the final healing.
I was able on a regular basis, to bring this woman communion, to sing songs, and just be present up until Covid. I shared today at her funeral on particular moment with her. It was Christmas time 2019–I was to meet her husband at the memory care center where we would sing some Christmas songs, with the help of my IPad and share the story of Baby Jesus. He was not able to be there, so I went into a room where I got NO response from her as she lay there staring at the ceiling. I thought “I want to hear the whole John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album”. I fired it up on my IPad and began, from memory, singing along with the ridiculous and the sublime. There I was— a 70 year old singing to her with no body listening. Somewhere near the end of the time there, her face lit up with a huge smile, her eyes cleared and for just a moment we were connected.
When I walked into the room where the service was to be held today, there was art work everywhere. There were still lifes, landscapes, lots of paintings of cats, dogs, and kids. They were clearly done by an accomplished artist. She was a musician, teacher, mom of 4 and a singer. The video and tributes filled in a lot of spaces for me.
I need to remember that we were all kids once. Not one of us knows how our lives will roll out before they end. Hopefully when we can we paint, sing, cook, write, build, joke, play, ski, fish, travel, and whatever else as we share our life.
Alzheimer’s might steal our memory but it can’t take away our memories.
Onward and Upward, Mark