15 March 2016

Dementia Prayer Week 12-19 March 2016. 'Long ago I used to be a young man and dear Margaret remembers that for me.'

Long ago I used to be a young man
and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Dutchman is a song written by Michael Peter Smith in 1968. It's about an elderly couple living in Amsterdam, Margaret and the title character. The unnamed Dutchman has dementia and Margaret cares for him with a sadness over what has happened to him over the years. It's a story of unconditional love.

Portrait of an Old Man with Beard, van Gogh, December 1885 
Riksmuseum Vincent van Gogh Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

I became involved with The Pastoral Care Project in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, while based in the Columban house in Solihull from September 2000 to April 2002 when I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, though I stayed there for only a few months before returning to the Philippines. The mission statement of the Project is above. I first got involved when the founder of the Project, Mrs Frances Molloy, invited me to celebrate Mass in a home for old people.

The mission statement of the Project is above. The focus is on the spiritual needs of those who are frail, especially mentally. The Project also works with carers, not all of whom would understand the spiritual needs of those they are looking after. And the carers themselves need some care too as their work can be very demanding.

Michael Peter Smith's song, sung with such feeling by the late Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, captures something of what is asked of those taking care of a person with dementia, who is very often a spouse or a parent, in the lines, Long ago I used to be a young man / and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Project is once again holding Dementia - Prayer Week, 12-19 March 2016. 

I studied Shakespeare's As You Like It in school. (Stratford-on-Avon is in the Archdiocese of Birmingham and not far from the office of The Pastoral Care Project.) I always liked the famous speech of Jacques, The Seven Ages of Man or All the world's a stage. But a 15-year-old cannot understand the closing lines in the way the late Richard Pasco does here: 

Last scene of all, 
That ends this strange eventful history,  
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,  
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Portrait of an Old WomanPieter Bruegel the Elder, c.1564 Alte Pinakothek, Munich [Web Gallery of Art]

Prayer for Healthcare Professionals © 

O Lord we pray for all those whose work is dedicated
to the assessment and care of those who experience
confusion and profound memory loss.
For all who work as Healthcare Professionals in
everyday care and research into the causes of
Dementia of many kinds.
May they be strengthened in their work of service
with individuals, families and friends.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Written in 2009 for the Pastoral Care Project by Rev’d Canon Edward Pogmore, Chaplain Co-ordinator, The George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust and North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust.

Dementia - Prayer Week has been going on for some years now. Introducing that of 2013 Bishop McGough, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Birmingham and lead Bishop for the Pastoral Care Project said, I am pleased to commend the national week of prayer and awareness of dementia. Few of us can imagine the isolation, and consequent anxiety, that this affliction brings both to those who suffer and their families. Through prayer let us ground ourselves in our communion with the Lord, making ourselves one with the many who suffer and those who care for them.'
Everyone can participate in this week by visiting  www. pastoralcareproject.org.uk using the resources to organise an event or to join in existing event locally.    

Carers too need support. When a former elderly carer whose wife with dementia was hospitalised he would visit and help feed her and give her drinks and ensure she was well cared for, even though he was frail himself. He would sing songs, hymns and pray with her. After her death he found comfort  through praying and writing poetry; by donating the poems to the Pastoral Care Project he felt solidarity with people with dementia and those in similar caring situations.

The Washing of the FeetSieger Köder

The following poem was composed by him as he reflected on the painting of the Washing of the Feet by Fr Sieger Koder, a German priest who died on 9 February 2015, during one of the Pastoral Care Projects’ Quiet Day for Carers.

The Water of your Blessing©

Do not kneel, My Lord.
It is for me to kneel
At your feet.
With your loving hands you
Touch my feet…
Loving, gentle hands
Which made those who ail and hurt
Whole and well.
You washed your feet with
Water cool and soothing…
The water of your
You dried my feet with
Linen pure; and gentleness.
But infinitely you washed
My heart…
A heart ‘oft grieved and saddened.
You drew me close and called me Son,
And filled me with your grace,
Your great Amen.

Dementia - Prayer Week 12-19 March involves us all – because everyone knows someone who is affected by dementia. 

Bishop David McGough, St Augustine's Church, Solihull, Archdiocese of Birminghan
26 September 2015

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