By Laura-Lee Kidwell Jones
As a hospice chaplain, I am regularly asked, “Why do you visit with Alzheimer’s patients?” My standard answer includes, “Because perhaps they will know that someone is there and they will, possibly, for even a moment know that they have value and are loved.”
A while back I had a patient, a veteran of World War II. Through time, decisions and circumstances he had become estranged from his children. His children were scattered by distance, mothers and abandonment issues. Mr. Smith had become a ward of the state, living in a skilled nursing facility. When I would visit he would smile and seemingly participate in the visit. During each visit he would tell me, “I love you” and “You are beautiful!” Even after learning this 96 year-old-gentleman told everyone this—I felt loved and beautiful when I visited him.
Mr. Smith’s daughter, Jeanette, lives in Florida, and was the one family member to whom I could report my visits. She shared parts of Mr. Smith’s story; thus, when I visited I could offer life review, using the pictures in his room. Then I would share a scripture and would offer prayer.
Jeanette recounted that when Mr. Smith had lived in North Carolina he had really enjoyed Krispy Kreme doughnuts—the glazed ones, with a cup of coffee—two sugars and lots of cream. On my way to see Mr. Smith for our weekly visit, I stopped and picked up Krispy Kreme. When I got to the facility, I checked in and asked permission for the patient to have the treat. The facility nurse stated that Mr. Smith could be offered the food, however, he had not eaten anything in a few days. She did not want me to be disappointed if he did not eat or even respond.
He was sitting in a wheelchair, alone in his room. I pulled up a chair and sat down. The coffee was at a perfect temperature. I tore off a bite size piece of doughnut, dipped it in the coffee and offered it to Mr. Smith. He gobbled it up!
He reached for the doughnut that I offered him. As he slowly ate the doughnut, washing it down with sips of coffee, I told him that the doughnut was from his daughter Jeanette. I offered a prayer for Jeanette and for Mr. Smith’s other children. Almost always, with dementia patients who are Christian, I close prayers with The Lord’s Prayer. Mr. Smith’s gaze met mine as I voiced the prayer, tears flowing down his face he joined me saying the words, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
As I drove away I realized that as Baptist Christians we often say that communion is to mediate the presence of Christ through remembrance. A sort of epiphany came to me. For Jesus’ followers, wine and unleavened bread were an “available treat.” They were part of a larger meal, they were available; but, because it was Passover, they were probably the best available. In South Carolina, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are a special part of life—perhaps Jesus would use them if offering communion in Spartanburg in 2015!
That morning with Mr. Smith in a holy moment, the love of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the redemptive power of Christ was experienced in a Krispy Kreme doughnut, a cup of coffee and a prayer.
Laura-Lee Kidwell Jones began the seminary process in 1998 and with the support of her boys will finish, hopefully, in May 2016, from Gardner-Webb University, School of Divinity. Laura and Stuart, the Associate Minister at Fernwood Baptist are the parents of Thaddeus a soccer-playing high school sophomore, Aaron who is studying journalism and environmental science at NYU and Nathan, a game-designer living in Manhattan.