Going into the dementia care unit last week was like going to an ice rink with people who did not know how to skate. Confusion reigned. Walkers, wheelchairs and tempers tangled together as 20 residents sought a small space of refuge from each other (and themselves).
Usually when we enter the room, the residents are anticipating our arrival and welcome us with smiles and greetings. Tonight they had distant stares and did not seem excited about our entrance. We wheeled the keyboard in on a dolly, unloaded, started the music, turned the TV off and worked to get the walkers and talkers settled. It’s kind of like corralling sheep – sheep whose minds have wandered onto various trails of broken thoughts. This is what we found during the first few minutes after our arrival:
As we turn the corner into the room, Elise is ranting. When she starts off this way, she usually keeps talking during our worship time.
Frances, who always likes to sit front and center, struggles in with her walker. Another resident in the front row graciously stands up to vacate a chair for her but Frances says, “I don’t like that chair and I’m not sitting there.” She moves on in search of the perfect chair, bumping into things on her way.
Pat thinks that I am her son, Mitchell, and is upset that I can’t remember all the things she was talking to me about. She swats me on the arm in frustration.
Ethel is irritated by all the commotion and tells several other residents to “shut up.”
Jim, in his loud voice, begins blurting out his usual incoherent thoughts as I speak my words of welcome. I gently tell him to wait a moment and we will talk later. He quiets down.
Through kind words and winsome gestures the residents are brought together to sing a few old favorites – “Take me out to the Ball Game…You Are my Sunshine.” Elise has calmed down, but a sweet lady in the front row keeps turning around to tell her how to use her song sheet. During the second song, Leona (who loves our times together) gets confused, stands up, grabs her purse, and announces, “I’m going home now.”
Henry stands up and shuffles around in front of the keyboard player, causing a distraction. I walk over to him, take his hand, sit him down, and hold his hand.
No matter what happens, we remain calm, reassuring, friendly and flexible!
And then… after a few more songs and hymns and a prayer, I look around in amazement that these 20+ people have now quieted and turned their attention to the three of us; a pianist, a co-teacher and me. Almost all are captivated and eager to sing the next song. The scattered dust of wandering thoughts has settled. My resident friends have opened their hearts and minds for whatever those kind three people up front will be sharing.
It is now time to open God’s word – the greatest nourishment for their souls. My message (given while still holding Henry’s hand) is about our hope in a good God and the blessings he sends us. Ethel points at me and says, “God sent you to us.”
We share. They feast. We sing some hymns. They enter into worship with us. God’s presence is so evident. The staff, too, is now participating. The dry bones have come to life. God’s word shared in His love has brought comfort, life, joy and peace to all of us.
We close with prayer and a blessing and hug everyone good-by.
We talk about it afterwards, how amazing God is to work such peace in people so confused and distraught, and how strongly we sense His presence and love for these people. Their longing is palpable, they drink in the words of life and hope, and they respond with relief when we speak the reassuring promises of comfort and blessing.
Some evenings, I am so tired that I don’t think I can minister. I am weary and want to go home and rest after a long and difficult day. But as the evening goes on, I gain new energy and at the end I think, “I almost missed this.” How much I would have missed!
I am so glad I went.