Nathan writes – June 2024

‘She’s sleeping now. It’s been a rather exciting day, bless her’.

These were the closing words of my latest visit to mother, in her nursing home, in Yorkshire. The nurse could see that I and my youngest son were visibly upset by the sight of her in bed, almost motionless, unable to look directly at us and having no idea who on earth we were.

Why is this stranger trying to hold my hand?

Who is this boy who thinks he’s my grandson?

Of course, we have no idea what she might be thinking, if anything, in this 12th year of her Dementia diagnosis.

That’s the problem. The unknown.

A few days earlier, it being half term, we made our annual pilgrimage to Bodnant Gardens, a wonderful place in North Wales famous for it’s Laburnum arch. We know if we didn’t go when we did, the flowers would go over and we’d have to wait another year.

More importantly, this is the last place where I had a lucid conversation with my mother, in those early days of nursing care.

‘The camelllias are just splendid, you’d love them. I love you.’ ‘I wish I was there with you. I love you too.’

So, each year I go back, sit on a bench and think about the woman who was my mother before this cruel disease took her mind, and is now slowly taking the rest of her. At 91, she is still here, the shell of who she used to be, at least.

When we drove home, Adam and I spoke about what she might have been aware of, whether she knew who he was and whether deep down she knew who she was. There is of course, no answer to that. We don’t know. So, I started thinking about what I DO know.

I do know that she is cared for by the most wonderful nurses, all of them South African Christians, working with Muslim care assistants. At the beginning and the end of each shift, they stand in a circle and pray together. I witnessed it once when my visit overran. it’s extraordinary. In this world of division, hate and suspicion, this underpaid, undervalued team of saints get together to pray for each other and for their residents. They see the worth in each of them whether they can speak, whether they are verbally of physically violent, and whether they are near the end of their lives.

If only we did the same in the world and in our local communities.

We so often write off the old, the housebound, the disabled or the confused. But love, real love does not.

In this rather basic nursing home in a run down area of Bradford, amazing things are happening. People of great faith and compassion are seeing the worth in those whom society would deem worthless. They somehow see the love in each other and in their patients, however distant and well hidden through old age and illness.

I tell you this because last week we had the most wonderful wedding at St mary’s where we heard those words from Corinthians so often read at weddings, and we used the prayers with the new couple which speak of real, practical, gritty love, which transcends white dresses, confetti and notions of romance.

At some point in all of our lives, when our bodies fail, our minds wander and we are no longer any use to others, what remains is love, just as strong, just as potent as ever, transforming ourselves, others and the world around us.

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