by Rev. John H. Farmer
Outliving our memory
Warm blessings in a long pastorate come in that we get to weave others and ourselves into an expanded family network. I love this, for as I have personally lost family; God has provided blessings in new relationships by those “born in my heart.” It also helps me understand my place in the continuum of God’s lifecycle.
It is bittersweet when looking out from my side the pulpit. I still see the faces of past parishioners; I miss them.
At home, there are pictures everywhere of our kids, grandkids, adopted kids, parents, grandparents: all the saints of our lives before and since Hazel and I married. Many I shall only meet again in Heaven’s care.
Church members carry warm memories of special leaders, congregants: those who’ve touched their lives in so many wonderful ways as to be their church heroes.
A note to pastors here: often they are church school teachers, deacons, missionaries, musicians, who served simultaneous with our term and we are in the second memory bank, not the first. Take for instance a few Irvington and Claybrook notables: Hattie Simmons (longtime teacher), Madge Henley Wright (first wife of the late pastor Bill Wright) and Zizie Bray (wife of the late pastor Richard Bray).
I am confident that any number of young persons will remember Miss Hazel and ask, “Who was that Santa-look-alike to whom she was wed?”
My memory is full of special church folk who lovingly entered my life as a lad. One was the deacon who met me at the outside stair at old Webber Memorial. See, I was a kid delivered to the Sunday Jesus, not taken. I fondly remember the lady teacher there into whose lap he delivered me… years later she was sending me inspirational notes when I was serving in the USMC.
Hazel and I had the great pleasure of caring for my stepmom for her last three earthly years. Dementia had frozen her into days of yore. She was a windfall of stories about being a first-generation German immigrant, whose family lived in Richmond during World War II, trying to cautiously fit in and be less known for their heritage.
For many perhaps the diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s is of little consequence: however, in truth it is devastating. In times past it was an allergy to birthday candles…
Over a decade ago, I received a call from a retired physician asking for a half-day appointment to discuss his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. He arrived at the appointed hour and we chatted about his concern. Then he got on his knees in the parsonage living room and prayed about every decision he’d made as a doctor; asking God’s blessing for when he was correct and God’s forgiveness when he was wrong. Wow!
In a few years, he did not know me or anyone else. Later, when visiting him at Farnham Manor I asked about a picture on the table of a beautiful lady at the helm of his sailboat. He did not know her either. Soon, he left us. Later that lady, his wife, was in the same condition, requiring round-the-clock care.
On a recent hardware-shopping outing for our teen mission trip I greeted a local professional, well connected with the Lord’s house. His life is conflicted in working while being caregiver for a spouse.
A while back, I received the sweetest note from one of our senior members, scarce in attendance of late. The love of his wife occupies copious amounts of time. Both were most active here in former years and blessings to the congregations. He had been able to dash over to worship, because there was another caregiver available.
Being a loving caregiver is a taxing vocation. Often, others are so focused on the ailing partner, that the able partner is overlooked.
His note read, “I miss my wife so much, I don’t know what I am going to do.” He remained at her side, always loving her for as long as needed, though she was not able to express her love in return.
Let me interject a note here: in my ministry, I have buried a number of caregivers prior to conducting funerals for those to whom they were devoted.
Every church has scores of such heart ripping stories. Share them.
Couples, parents, need to have frank conversations for how and when others need to step in. Bring in the family lawyers for safe counsel.
Here’s just a few hints at taking care of others that might start you along the road on which we may find ourselves: “Try not to take behaviors personally. Remain patient and calm. Explore pain as a trigger. Don’t argue or try to convince. Accept behaviors as a reality of the disease and try to work through it” (from: http ://www.alz.org). This resource was imminently useful when I became caregiver for my dad, step mom and first wife.
I would not have survived without a loving church family as my support team.
You can find such a Faith team near your home; invest yourself in a future network of friends.
If you cannot find a spot where you fit in, contact me at the Rappahannock Record, or pop in at the Irvington Baptist Church and I promise I will do my best to help.