“Dance me through the panic ’til I’m
safely gathered in”
For years, elderly member of our extended family have experienced the dreaded diagnosis of dementia and suffered the gradual loss and sorrow inherent in this illness. As a social worker and Jungian psychotherapist, I depended on my natural sensitivity to suffering and my professional experiences to understand and support these afflicted families. However, it came closer to home when my father was diagnosed, followed by my husband.
After my father’s diagnosis in 1994, I became his caregiver until his death in
2000. My husband was diagnosed in 2001. It was clear I was again being “called” to serve in the capacity of caregiver, but this time without my beloved best friend and husband supporting me in that demanding role; he was now the one moving towards twilight.
In order to keep my mind, body and soul from succumbing to unbearable loss, sadness, helplessness and depression, I turned towards literature, particularly poetry, as a reminder that there is a larger reality beyond our earthly human experiences. After suffering the deaths of three children and two wives, the 18th century Japanese Haiku poet wrote, “This world of dew is, yes, a world of dew, and yet…” Yes, my world of loss and mourning was, like dew, ephemeral. I needed to be reminded of the “and yet…”, the numinous holy dimension of life, that which is infinite.
Returning to the church after many years, I found a large, inclusive, welcoming congregation in our neighborhood. My husband and I
participated in many activities on Sundays and during the week where we
experienced acceptance and warm hospitality as his illness became increasingly apparent. Human kindness, sacred music, and familiar Sunday rituals, the gifted delivery of the sermons by an outstanding pastor brought healing to our sorrowful hearts. Time has moved on. Alas, I now attend alone.
Alone… but not lonely. The variety of special interest groups offered by the church nourishes mind and soul, lifting me up out of my earthly grief. Group themes include Prayer, Bible Study, Scripture and the Arts, Wonder Women (spiritual seekers over age 60), Caring Ministry, devoted to offering spiritual support to others, and Mental Health Ministry, which offers educational formats and a bimonthly support group for those so afflicted and their families, to name a few. As my husband’s “presence” within our relationship diminishes, I find love, understanding and companionship in the human relationships cultivated through the groups. More importantly, I
experience God’s compassionate presence within, a divine intimacy which heals the loss of human intimacy, a blessing indeed.
In the words of Ted Loder (” I Teeter on the Brink of Endings” in Guerrillas of Grace, 1984) as he addresses the infinite dimension of human experience,
“Be with me in my end of things…I listen for your leading to help me
faithfully move on through the fear of my time to let go so the timeless may
take hold of me.” With the support of the church community, I am now confident that I can heed the prayer/song of Leonard Cohen as my husband continues to fear his own diminishments: “Dance me through the panic ’til I’m safely gathered in, lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove, dance me to the end of love…” With the support of the church, our dance continues. I remain ever grateful.
First Congregational Church
Music for my mother’s soul
My mother’s dementia was quite advanced when she and my father moved across the country to live with my husband and me. We had spent months getting ready for their arrival, remodeling a living area in our home to make it safer and more pleasant for them, planning for their healthcare needs and helping them sort out what to bring and what to part with. One of the other tasks I faced was figuring out how to best meet my mother’s spiritual needs.
When my mother arrived in Colorado, she needed help with
bathing, dressing, eating and brushing her teeth. She recognized me as her
daughter occasionally, but often she referred to me as “that really nice lady.” She could still walk with either a cane or a walker and could still navigate stairs with some assistance. She could talk, but she frequently got lost midsentence — the ends of her sentences might be totally unrelated to the thoughts she started with. She liked helping prepare meals, but about all we could find that she could do was peel carrots with a vegetable peeler. We had carrots in our salad every night that first year.
In her home town, my mother belonged to a fairly traditional
mainline Christian church. I, on the other hand, attended a liberal “New
Thought” church, complete with a gay minister and rock band. My mother’s
ability to relate to the world through the spoken word was tenuous at best, but she had been a talented classical musician and still found great comfort in music. I knew a rock band wasn’t going to work for her on Sunday mornings. So I decided to find a church we could attend together that offered a more traditional approach to music to meet her needs and a theology liberal enough to meet mine.
We ended up at First Congregational Church in Boulder. The
church had a fabulous historic organ that had been lovingly restored and a
vibrant and high-quality music program and choir. It also had a thriving Mental Health Ministry and “Accessible to All” covenant, which I quickly discovered was embedded deep in the congregation’s DNA. They didn’t just pay lip service to accessibility issues – they lived the covenant fully and applied it to everything from gluten-free bread for communion, to a fragrance-free policy, accessible parking spaces and restrooms and automatic door openers. But more than that, the church actively encouraged the full participation of members with a variety of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism and other brain disorders.
Later, when I decided to join the church, I talked to the ministry team about whether my mother should join as well, as I didn’t think she had the capacity to understand the commitment she would be making. The
response was heartwarming: “It doesn’t matter if your mother joins officially or not. We welcome her with open arms as a member of our church family.”
And they did.
And I am grateful.
My mother passed away more than a year ago. I miss her and think of her often; I always feel her smiling down on me when I am peeling carrots.
Member, First Congregational Church