31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 12, 2023
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Have you ever walked into a room and couldn’t remember why you went in there? Or been in the middle of a conversation and forgotten what you were saying? People often make jokes about getting older and not remembering things; however Alzheimer’s and dementia are no laughing matter.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are painful for the person suffering with the disease as their memories and thoughts increasingly feel just out of reach, and they feel overwhelmed with the change in their cognitive abilities.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are also painful for caregivers and loved ones. Years ago, when our family was caring for a loved one with dementia, a church member recommended a book called “The Thirty-Six Hour Day” and how true that title feels. When you are caring for a loved one with memory issues, you feel like you cannot rest even one moment or something might happen. Each day feels incredibly long and exhausting.
Depending on what source you read, upwards of 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2021, Connecticut Magazine projected that one in nine people over the age of 65 was living with Alzheimer’s. That is a lot of lives affected. That’s a lot of church members’ lives affected because they are either living with this disease or because one of their loved ones is living with this disease.
So I was grateful when Bill found this choral anthem titled “When Memory Fades”. I was grateful when he encouraged me to create a worship service to go along with this anthem. Because God is still speaking. God is still speaking to us in every age and stage of our lives. God is still guiding us through every challenge and difficulty we face. God is still with us “when mem’ry fades and recognition falters, when eyes we love grow dim, and minds, confused,”.
When we or our loved ones have difficulty remembering, we can turn to Psalm 139 to hear the good news that God remembers. God knows us. Even when we don’t know our own thoughts, God knows them. Even before a word is on our tongue and especially in those cases when the word eludes our mind and tongue, God knows it completely.
God knows us. God is with us. Even when our memories fade, even when we struggle cognitively, even when our bodies aren’t able to do what they once could do, in every age and stage of life, God is with us. God hems us in. God is behind us. God is before us. God is beside us. The hand of God’s blessing is upon us.
The psalmists’ words make me think of Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s book The Runaway Bunny. There is no place where we can go that God is not there with us. We can climb the highest mountains and still God’s love will be there. We can “take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, [and] even there [God’s] hand shall lead [us], and [God’s] right hand shall hold [us] fast.” (Psalm 139:9-10)
Our bodies can change; our minds can change; we can feel like our memories are fading, our minds are growing confused, our bodies are failing, and still, and still, God is with us. There is no change that can happen to our mind or to our body that will change God’s love for us.
And the reason for that is because God created us. God knit us together and formed us, and called us good.
The words of the 139th psalm are not just a promise for us when we are young. They aren’t a promise only for those whose bodies work in a certain way or look a certain way. We are allwonderfully made. In every age and stage of our lives, God calls us beloved. God calls us wonderful. We are precious to God from the very first moment, and that continues throughout our lives. We are and will always be precious to God.
So what happens when memory fades and recognition falters, when eyes we love grow dim, and minds confused? God continues to speak to our souls of love that never alters. God continues to hold us in God’s loving arms. God remembers every valued deed and every act and offering.
And God invites us to see those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia through God’s eyes, not to compare them to who they were yesterday or last year or ten years ago, instead to see them for the precious, beloved child of God they are today. In this present moment. To be with them and with God in this moment, not in the past, not in the future, just in the here and now.
To receive that gift from them, to share that gift with them, to not struggle to be anything other than who they are, who we are in this moment, God’s wonderfully made, beloved one.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are terrible diseases, perhaps made more painful by our societal belief that we have to always be proving our worth, that we are only loved when we are achieving and accomplished.
That is not the truth though. That is not God’s truth. In every age and stage of our life, with all of our varied abilities and capabilities, every single one of us was wonderfully made by God, is wonderfully made by God, and will forever continue to be wonderfully made by God. As we struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia, cancer treatment, chronic diseases, when our arms and legs and minds won’t do what they used to do, won’t do what we want them to do, in every moment, in every stage, we are precious to God. We are always precious to God.