Why I Created Spiritual Eldercare
As more and more people reach very old age, life’s road can get lonely. Long-loved friends and family members move away, die, and forget or are unable to visit. It’s not unusual for elders to wonder why they’re still here, why they haven’t been “called home,” and how to find purpose in their days. As my grandmother, then age 91, lamented, “God has forgotten me.”
But these elders are still very much alive — even if they suffer the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Their lives still have meaning, beauty, and purpose. Spiritual Eldercare springs from my deep love for elders, particularly those with dementia, and their still-vibrant souls.
In my experience, these dear people still want to know more about God, how to be faithful servants, and what their purpose is today. Even those who can no longer speak or seem lost to the fog of Alzheimer’s respond to loving touch, music, eye contact, and conversation about spiritual things. I see this every day.
My beloved father-in-law developed Alzheimer’s disease in his late 60s and passed away at age 76. My husband and I were intimately involved with his journey as my mother-in-law became his full-time caregiver. I learned a lot about dementia during this time, and I loved hanging out with him … and found I was able to help others, including my husband, learn how to cope and even to celebrate the moments of connection and joy during Dad’s decline.
After his death, I started volunteering at Balfour Cherrywood, a dedicated Alzheimer’s and memory-care community in Louisville, Colorado. Starting in January 2013, I hosted the weekly Sunday afternoon tea, complete with vintage china, a rousing sing-along, and homemade cookies (made by my mother-in-law).
During the hour before the tea party, I often sat with residents during the dementia-friendly worship service, led by then-chaplain Chad Federwitz, the deeply caring activities director. I learned so much by watching Chad lead those services, which included lots of hymn singing, readings from the Bible and other sources, the occasional funny story, and an interactive homily on a theme such as community, love, peace, or wisdom. By his example, Chad taught me the incalculable value of spiritual care for these dear residents.
When Chad moved on in May 2016, I was delighted to be offered the part-time chaplain role. (See my blog, “What Does it Mean to be a Chaplain?”) It is the highlight of my week to create and lead dementia-friendly spiritual activities, including a weekday Bible study and a worship service on Sunday afternoons.
As for my religious and education background: I was confirmed in the Catholic church; at age 13, I made a decision to follow Jesus. I now have more than 34 years of experience leading interdenominational Christian worship services and Bible studies in both church and para-church settings.
I earned a BA from Stanford University in English/Creating Writing. In 2015, I completed healing prayer ministry training (Levels 1-4). In June 2017, I became a licensed and ordained chaplain through I.F.O.C., which has given me new insights and tools for this work.
I now lead spiritual care at four senior communities in Boulder County.
Spread the Love
While doing this work, it occurred to me that other chaplains, family members, and anyone else who loves elders might find my dementia-friendly Bible studies and worship services useful in their own roles. These free, downloadable documents are easy to modify to your own setting and the level of your loved one’s or residents’ abilities and interest — and in fact I encourage you to do so.
And after more than a year’s work and tons of support, I’m nearly done with my Hymns for Alzheimer’s project: free downloadable sing-along hymns and spirituals arranged for people with dementia.
In addition, I’ve gathered some resources — experts, websites, articles, and more — that I’ve found interesting and helpful. I’ve been a professional writer and editor for many years, so creating this site is a way for me to use my expertise to benefit elders, families, and caregivers who are so dear to me.
Please contact me if you have any questions, suggestions, or thoughts; I’d love to make this site a community effort. I’d also be happy to arrange a phone consultation or an in-person training visit to your elder care setting.
Peace be with you,