Memory units are hard places to visit. They are usually smaller wards and always have locked doors. No one wants a resident to walk out a door and into a road. At first, those new to the ward discover the locked doors and feel imprisoned. The clever ones begin to scheme an escape. There is something about us that doesn’t like a wall.
It is a dreadful thing to watch a dear one lose his or her memory. Some have shared a bed for decades with all the little intimacies that are part of being one flesh. So many of my oldest parishioners in Waco used to tell me that at bedtime each night they would hold hands and say the Lord’s Prayer. I wept at the beauty of their life together… especially because it lay barer still the sterility of a, then, dying marriage. Whom we marry is the most important decision we make in life. To be unequally yoked is a sorrow.
I remember seeing her the first time on a memory ward where a parishioner had forgotten who his wife was. The wife was now, perhaps, his sister or his mother. He was holding hands with another resident and introduced the woman to his wife as his girlfriend. The nurse was a gentle soul. I could see the great compassion she had for the wife who knew she was a wife but her husband no longer remembered.
My mother was a geriatric nurse for years. When she began to lose her memory, it seemed so cruel. My sister Donna would visit Mom three times a day, but Mom would rage that she hadn’t been there in weeks. And there were those days Mom would ask her name, and, then, Mama would say, “I have a daughter named Donna.” Her twin would rarely visit and then cry that it was too hard to be with Mama and that she was praying for Mama to die. Donna would shake her head. Mom cared for us when we were helpless.
One day to her horror, the nurse realized her own memory was going. She came home to tell her husband that she had to retire before she began giving the wrong medications and hurt somebody. Again, it seemed so cruel that a geriatric nurse, who had shown such compassion to many residents and their families, was slowly losing her memory. She remained a sweet, gentle soul. She continued to come to worship for a long time, and, then, one day her husband and she stopped coming. We were told they were going to worship with their son at another church. I was sad to see them go.
People often tell me they have never been angry with God. Yet, the psalms are filled with people expressing their anger to God like a little child stomping her or his feet. Those laments are there as a permission to people of faith strait-jacketed by a piety that believes anger is wrong. Anger is. Anger is God’s gift to let out pain, the pain of fear, the pain of hurt, yes, the pain of betrayal. Anger can be expressed poorly and even wickedly as we see daily in the news, but anger will be expressed whether inwardly as depression or outwardly as passive aggressiveness in the case of the dishonestly pious.
When our dear loved one suffers, we feel anger towards God but, then, we take it out on others. Pastors understand this, because we are frequently targeted. Memory units are hard to visit. But….
Thank you, Father, for the nurse who showed such love to many. Thank you for remembering us if we can no longer remember. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put twenty-one pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box to feed the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.