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Friday, 18 September 2015

Living with Dementia

On Tuesday, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, we continued our exploration of the experience of dementia and faith, through the insight of lived experience and theological reflection, as we looked at how our church life and worship might grow in a more dementia-friendly way. We were helped enormously in doing so by Clive Wright, David Warbrick and Sister Margaret.

David Warbrick said: "I was seeing, pared down, the very fabric of faith: imagination, analogy, metaphor, improvisation, musicality of speech, the power of words to evoke rather than confine and control. In his dementia, Dad laid bare the workings of the equipment God has given human beings for prayer. Half an hour in his real-yet-imaginary world burnished my vision of the world outside. The slowness and sense of presence made me see the exquisite delicacy of facial expressions and listen to intonation as much as to words, so something shifted in me. Just as his paintings have made me stop and behold rather than merely look at the world, maybe in his childlike dementia he has offered me a gift of perception I need to receive precisely now if I am to stay in touch with the kingdom of heaven during this exciting, potentially fruitful but also perhaps dangerously self-important, busily distracted decade of my life."

Several people spoke a sense of hope as a result of the idea developed by John Polkinghorne that "the immensely complex ‘information-bearing pattern’ (memories, character, etc) carried at any one time by the matter of my body ... is the soul and, though it will dissolve with the decay of my body, it is a perfectly sensible hope that the faithful God will not allow it to be lost but will preserve it in the divine memory in order to restore its embodiment in the great divine act of resurrection."

Also of particular interest was the thought that it is our earliest memories which are the last to fade. This is an additional reason for seeking to ensure that children have positive experiences in their childhood, as those memories may well be the place that they inhabit again at the end of their lives.

These are just some points of particular note for me from an evening which was full of value for those who came. Much discussion about dementia is to do with increasing understanding and thinking about the small things that we can do to make a difference to people affected by dementia in our community. That is deeply valuable but this evening took the discussion in very different directions which confronted some of the very real questions and challenges that the experience of living with dementia raises.


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