HERE’S PAST-MIDNIGHT DISTILLATION of many a prayer or conversation I’ve been privileged to share across the years – and thresholds ecclesiastical, pastoral, practical and theological. Wisdom counsels always against “quick, slick, thick, too-certain preachers” – and I must pray each day to hear her …

Married sixty-two years and
My beloved has dementia

O God on High have mercy on me
Save me from quick, slick, thick, too-certain preachers
For nurses, bedpans and fearful tremblings are my
More immediate teachers
Married sixty-two years, you see, and
My beloved has dementia

O God on High have mercy on me

Hell! I’ve forgotten the pass-code
Where are my glasses? Where’s the bell?
Save me from quick, slick, thick, too-certain preachers
For I’m not quite sure if it’s beloved
Who’s the patient in here, or perhaps it’s me
Or him and me, or me and her as well –

Oh! Where’s the bell?
O God on High have mercy on me
Here’s Parsimonious heading this way
What, I ask you, dear God –
What shall I say?

Married sixty-two years …
Confirmed seventy-three years …
Christened eighty-five years …

Is beloved demented? – or is it me?
Or is it poor Parsimonious? – who preaches at me!

I’ve forgotten the pass-code. Where’s the bell?
Save me from the quick, too slick, thick …

God help me find the bell, and
Let thy Kingdom come
On this cold awful threshold
As it is in Heaven

Because someone’s demented round here
And it feels like Hell

SRM 21 viii 2013

2 thoughts on “BELOVED

  1. I can’t speak from the perspective of the one with dementia, or their partner, but I can speak as someone who is hugely privileged to share the lives of people with dementia and their families in the nursing home. Yes, it is hell. Partners in their eighties and nineties come day in day out to the nursing home to be with the one they have loved for a lifetime. They wouldn’t be anywhere else. The couples have been through all that life can send of great joys and deep sorrows. Their journey with dementia before they get to us has often been one of isolation, unbelievable, superhuman struggle and finally exhaustion to the point of breaking and beyond. With us the hell continues but in it, remarkably and surprisingly is discovered a bit of heaven. A heaven of sharing the care, of gradually, as they get to know us and our community, of being able to have confidence in us and to relax. To become a part of the community themselves, to be with other partners who have been on similar journeys. To not be alone – having felt alone for so long. To rediscover life in ways that are little but also huge.

    The home is full of loss. The residents have lost everything – independence, homes, relationships as they used to be, ability to communicate as they used to – and the very ability to think as they used to. And yet in all this loss and pain there is such magic that for me it is my greatest experience of God. In the loss of life as it was, comes a new life. Here all the people from the most able to the very weakest are an essential presence in the community. Each and every person contributes by being themselves. They all play their part in making the community what it is…. the Body of Christ.. There is great humour, great laughter, great mischief, happiness, sadness, confusion, fear, anxiety, contentment. There is everything under the sun. The greatest magic for me is the communication that becomes possible when thoughts and words no longer work properly. When thoughts and words don’t work it becomes possible to communicate at a deeper level – or perhaps it is always possible but our thoughts and words normally get in the way. Being able to connect with people where they are in their head, in their emotions, staying with them there until they are ready to move on. This is communion.

    Your poem is beautiful and powerful and I feel the words as I read them. And yet I’m not afraid for when my time comes.

    Much love Simon, and my thanks as always for you and for the great encouragement that you are from afar.

    Mary x

  2. Thank you, dear Mary, so much.

    We’ve spoken before of how “communion” is made and experienced in a million different ways – by countless different creative, praying, healing outstretched hands – and your beautiful and generous response to this poem sets out the majesty and the immortality of innumerable scenes in my own memory – behind the poem’s lines.

    One of my hopes for this poem has been that readers might notice that, even in confusion, despondency, despair – and even a degree of frustration with “too-certain preachers” – “the beloved”, struggling on the doorstep, still addresses “O God on High” with an intimacy and expectation not apparently possible with the parson here below – “what shall I say?”

    And – as you say – something of “Kingdom come” arrives, somehow, against the odds, in the midst of our immediate, searching, visceral experiences, “as it is in heaven”.

    And yes: thank you so much for communicating “at a deeper level”.

    Love for you, too. As ever x

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