I visited one of our old members on Saturday. I have not seen her for ages. She was 99 the next day and has severe dementia. She did not recognise me or even remember the Meeting House. I felt very sad as I sat with her, holding her hand, barely speaking. She had a TV guide in front of her and was trying to make sense of it. The dates which were in the previous week did not help. I had written out a card and put her address on the envelope in case I hadn't had time to visit. She kept reading this and knew that the place was a home but did not recognise that that's where she lived. I slid it into my bag.
I have worked in social services and within communities but I have not come across dementia very much. I was concerned at my lack of knowledge and my being stumped in terms of how I might be able to help. Sometimes, probably most times, we just want to make things better. It seems to me that if we are to offer pastoral support that sometimes we need professional support. I thought that next time I might take some photos of when she attended the Meeting House but will that help?
I am moved to ask how we respond as communities when people are unable to connect with us, not because they don't want to but because they can't? Do they ever stop being one of us? We are fairly lucky although we only have a very part-time minister he does do pastoral visits and several other community members keep in touch with those who can no longer get to us. The National Unitarian Fellowship provides an opportunity to make links with others but that is perhaps a little impersonal for some. It is the human contact between people who have shared a worship space and a loving community.
Can all communities and congregations provide support to all its members that cannot get to services? What do we know about the needs for support at home or in residential care? Sometimes the support we are called to provide is to relatives. And then there is the sticky question of the funeral - although we all need to think about this I suppose. I would like to see us provide much more help in supporting the giving of pastoral care. I don't know what training ministers get but I haven't seen anything for lay people.
Pastoral care is love in action, often it goes unnoticed in the larger scheme of things, but always it is valued and very much appreciated.