Going Deeper


 According to God, it’s not good for men and women to be alone.

And that means dementia is very bad indeed, because utter aloneness is what it spawns. Dementia is a bullying kidnapper, relentlessly shoving the sufferer into solitary confinement, where the most beloved friends and family morph into strangers. We know who we are because of who we know. The sight of my child reminds me that I am a father; the voice of a confidante tells me that I am a friend. But when every face is unfamiliar, then I no longer know who I am. This is a bewildering banishment: to be a stranger to oneself.

Dementia is heartless: it prizes apart bony fingers, refusing to allow its victims to clutch comforting memories of better times from bygone years, or from just five minutes ago.

It dumps those it strikes into a surreal, frightening world, where even the comforting landscape of home turns into an unrecognisable wilderness. This is life in a strange land, an emotional exile, with only thicker fog on the horizon. Fear rules there. A bump in the small hours, or a lingering shadow induces terror because dementia’s smart missile is paranoia. It makes the mind its stage, summoning awful images like a mad Hollywood director; one that makes Tarrantino look tame.

Dementia is a monstrous anaconda that silently stalks and then crushes all life in its coils.

And now someone that I love is so smitten. She gave birth to me, but can’t always recall my name. She asks the same question, not twice an hour, but sometimes three times a minute.  Cruelly, there are times when she realises exactly what is happening to her. The fog lifts briefly and her eyes clear. The snake relaxes its stranglehold, just for a while. She apologies tearfully because she knows that her treks to the wilderness are hard on us. She clings onto me for dear life, trembling and bowed before this dementia thug. She thanks me for being kind, and tells me over and over again how much she loves me, desperate to say it before the mist descends on the moors of her mind once more. Her gratitude brings a strange pain, because I know too well how I’ve bristled with impatience and tut-tutted over endless repeats.

But then the sun disappears again for God knows how long.  Sometimes it feels like a horrible creature hijacks the dementia victim, disguising itself as them. But there is stealth and cunning too: dementia entwines itself around the worst aspects of the personality. Irritating habits are exaggerated as this disease spoils everything. It sneers at dignity and tramples on it: grey haired, Jesus-loving ladies, once sweet, holy Sunday School teachers, snarl and spew vile expletives.

Dementia. I hate the word. I fear its strike.   

So I was shocked to discover that I too am smitten with dementia. Before God’s wholeness, I am demented. Decades ago, Michael Griffiths penned a pithy, prophetic book about the church, called Cinderella with Amnesia. That’s what the church is: a beautiful bride in the making, but one with frequent memory lapses. How often do we ask the same old hackneyed questions, and insist on treading tired, well worn pathways of sin, always hearing, never learning, seemingly oblivious to the the pain that we cause him. The incontinence of our sin must surely wrinkle his nostrils, as once again we soil ourselves.

Consider demented Israel. Over and over again, despite miraculous sea-crossings and manna falling from heaven, hers was the repeated malady described in just two words: they forgot. Stunning moments just slipped their minds. Desperate that they remember, God gave them feasts and festivals, circumcision and ceremony. Still they forget.

Nothing’s changed. That’s why Jesus’ parting gift to his friends was a remembrance meal.

So today, let’s think clearly, learn from our failures, and by grace, live beautifully.

And let’s spare a thought and a prayer for the humans who are carers, who unlike the Lord of amnesiac Israel, are not God or gods. Do not think that they are strong, just because they act as if they are. Let’s tread gently around our elders, and never write them off as codgers.

And next time you sip bread and wine, and, for a while, you remember clearly, be grateful for the Great Carer of us all. We cast our cares on him, because he cares for us. Thank God, He remembers our sins no more, but never forgets us sinners.


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