Rick Underwood

I appreciate all of your sharing of your reflections and experiences.  I have been working as a PRN chaplain for the last couple of months and that added responsibility has prevented me from responding as quick and much as I would like.  So, I’m trying to catch up a bit.

David, you mentioned that a part of your role is to explore spiritual resources with the older folks. You obviously do that in a variety of ways.  I loved your description of what happened when you walked into the memory care unit.  I couldn’t resist asking, did you accept any of the ladies invitations to dance.  At least it is a beautiful metaphor what we do.  We dance with others as they share their stories.  The difference for we men is that we encourage them to lead.

As I read that I was reminded of something related that I heard at the recent memorial service of one of my mentors, Walter Jackson.  Alzheimer’s had claimed his mind in the last couple of years.  Most of the time it was very difficult to understand him or to recognize the distinguished scholar, educator, counselor, he once had been.  However, if he was asked to pray, he would pray beautiful, articulate prayers like he always did.  I guess that was the dance with which he was most comfortable.

Also, can’t believe a “counselor” would accuse you of lying.  That is an awful, painful example of how an attempt to use a “technique” misses the mark and hurts much more than it helps.  I am glad that you have had good experiences.

Concerning your church, pastoral ministry and the reflections confirm the fact that as a pastor, we become the recipients of a bunch of person’s emotional transference or project whether that be good or bad.  It is impossible to know where many or some of the folks are coming from in their reactions to our attempts to be authentic.

In reference to the issue, several of you have raised about working with older folks in long term care contexts like helping them deal with “loss of meaning,  purpose, and hope”,  (Wally) and helping them “clean their minds and spirits from old issues” (Mary), I share a bit of my experience. My father-in-law died last year at age 99. He had lived with us for 6 years when he chose to enter a long term care facility.  After two years there he died but not before a lot of personal growth. As an introvert, he was hesitant to open us unless he really felt comfortable. We spent hours listing to him tell very old stories about his childhood, teenage, and young adult years. He would tell the same stories over and over.  Eric Erickson wrote that the challenge of the last phase of life was to learn to live in the tension between Integrity and Dispair.  The method for this process is storytelling. It was in the telling of these stories that he was able to make sense, meaning out of experiences for which he had played over in his mind for years.  Erickson suggests that it is the spiritual (my words) strength of wisdom that emerges.  It was a sacred gift to be a part of that journey for him.  I know you all can relate.  This is my way of thinking about it when I sit with an older person in the hospital that starts telling an old, old, story.

On a more personal level, at age 70, I find myself doing a similar thing with family, friends, especially old friends.  Perhaps on some level, that is a lot of the spiritual growth work that persons are doing with their posting old pictures on Facebook.

I welcome any and all feedback and thoughts.


P.S. Our discussion will continue until Tuesday.