I took Declan to visit Dad this afternoon at the dementia wing of the nursing home that Dad has been in for the past three months. Dad was in good form. For those of you with the experience, you will know that dementia sufferers are at their worst in the afternoon. In fact the whole locked wing takes on the appearance of a zombie film before zombies suddenly became fast (thank you Danny Boyle, director of 28 Days Later) , with the slowly dying shuffling around muttering, pilfering or just making noises.
Dad, thankfully is not that far gone yet, and had had a kip, so we had a great chat whilst Declan ate most of Dad’s wine gums and played with the remote headphones and watched TV. I spent a few minutes cleaning Dad’s hearing aids and putting in new batteries. Once they were re-installed safely in his ears the craic, as we say in Ireland, was good,
And then Tom came into Dad’s room. Or more to the point, shuffled in, bent over, looking at the ground almost, his thick shock of white hair in contrast to my dad’s bald pate. But that is about all he has going for him over Dad.
“Hi Tom,” said Dad, “Are you lost?”
Tom looked lost. He looked confused. He looked in anguish.
“Oh, I don’t know where I am going, I’ve forgotten, oh, oh. Oh.”
“Where do you want to go Tom?” I asked. Tom looked up at me quickly.
“Do you know me?”
“No, but Dad said your name. Where are you looking for Tom?”
He tried to get it out, tried to get the words out to even describe what he wanted to say, but he kept stopping. He sighed and seemed to almost stamp with annoyance, but I don’t think he could raise his feet high enough for a stamp.
“I was on my way to the music, but I can’t remember where that corridor is now.”
“How about we go and look Tom?” I said. I signalled to Declan and Dad, who settled back to watch some ABC for Kids together. Tom turned and shuffled with me back up the corridor. The anguish and sense of loss was clear as we walked.
“Oh, I’m hopeless,” he suddenly said, almost in tears.
I stopped him there.
“No Tom, you are not hopeless. That is not true of you. You are just a bit forgetful, but you are not hopeless.”
We shuffled on and one of the nurses – who are long-suffering, kind and patient – came and helped. There is a push here by a major union to stop foreign workers coming into the country, but the number of beautiful African people who work in my dad’s nursing home who genuinely care is wonderful. My brother says a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that they come from cultures that honour the elderly, so what a great gift they are. One of them led Tom off to the TV room where those who were awake were listening to music. I went back to Dad’s room.
“Tom’s in a bad way,” said Dad sadly, “He’s had a terrible day today.”
No Tom, you’re not hopeless.
In our cut and dried world, heading, nay hurtling, towards a dramatically ageing population there are many men – and women – like Tom. Men and women who, as their memories, capacities and bodies give out on them long before they actually die, are caught in grief and despair. And many advocates of euthanasia would point to such drains on the health dollar and say we have to be more clinical about when life should end.
No we don’t. Not when Tom thinks he’s hopeless. Even in the midst of this hopelessness, there is a gospel of hope. Even in the midst of Tom’s rapidly decaying brain, God may yet speak to him – even through something my Dad says to him. Tom is made in the image of God. True, it’s a broken image, and if Adam were to turn up today I would take him for a tour of this facility and say “See? See what you have done?” He would flee in horror. But the Second Adam? He would stand alongside Tom and lead him by the hand.
Jesus would say to Tom, “No Tom, you are not hopeless. I died and was buried and THAT seemed hopeless, but I rose again to bring hope.”
In the lead up to Easter let us remember the one who turned the most hopeless situation into the most hopeful one, and pray that people like Tom will still, by the grace of God, have the opportunity to hear this good news and understand it – even if only for a few short months.