By Revd. Canon Deborah Parsons
My sister-in-law recently visited and left behind a bag of books for summer holiday reading. Nothing highbrow or intellectually challenging, just sheer escapism. I picked my way through the bag and chose four.
One novel, Here and Now, by Santa Montefiore, explores dementia and the impact it has not just on the sufferer but on their family and friends.
It’s not a book I would have chosen as a summer holiday read, perhaps because it skirts too close to the truth. A close family member has recently been diagnosed with vascular dementia but I found the novel helpful.
In it, dementia is described as a bookshelf. The books on the top shelf are new memories; the ones below, are older memories. The ones right at the bottom are memories of childhood. When the bookshelf is shaken, through dementia, the books topple off, starting at the top, until in the end, even those at the bottom fall off too.
The protagonist, Marigold, asks her husband, what will happen if she forgets that she loves him. In a tender moment, he says: “It doesn’t matter if you forget that you love me because I have enough love for the two of us.”
The spiritual dimension of dementia is explored. In an imaginary conversation with her late father, who is very alive to Marigold, he explains that her body is like a car. The bodywork may be battered and the engine packing up but she is not the car, she’s the driver. As her memory fades and as her personality diminishes, her true self is still perfect and whole and eternal; held forever in Love’s memory. “Don’t you see, Goldie, you’ll always be you. No disease can take that away. You’re eternal. Nothing can ever destroy you.”
He encourages her to live in the present moment because it’s the only moment she has. “What’s wrong with now?” he tells her.
“What’s wrong with now?” becomes a family refrain as they each learn to treasure each moment of every day.
Marigold is affectionately nicknamed “Goldie” because she is like gold; a ray of sunshine to all whom she meets. The gracious way in which she bears her condition becomes an inspiration for others, who learn to set aside their petty grudges of the past and to appreciate life as a precious gift.
Her family, with the help of local villagers, make a jigsaw puzzle of their favourite memories of Marigold, so that she will know that those precious memories are held for her: She is remembered.
Perhaps each of us, in these turbulent times, can deepen our appreciation of the present moment and of life as a gift. However life finds us and whatever the future holds, may we take comfort in the fact that we are known and loved by God unconditionally. Like all creation, once we are called by name, we can’t be uncalled. We are held forever in God’s memory.