Dad had found a Gideon Bible in the locker at the hospital and was reading it one afternoon when I arrived for visiting. It was a pity the print was just too small for him. He told me how important it was that he had a Bible he could read at home and said he wanted to buy a large print version. So that was at the top of our priority list for when he got home.
Of my parents, it would be true to say that Mum was the ‘churchy one’, the church member who was comfortable talking about spiritual matters. More than anyone I have known, she believed in the power of prayer and trusted in God when her life, in real terms, depended on it. The parent who said prayers with me at bedtime and introduced me to what she believed to be the fundamental truth of the gospels. Her Christian faith was evident in the way she lived her life and this made it real and engaging, attractive to others.
I never knew Dad to demonstrate his beliefs through church attendance although he speaks often of Sunday School when he was a child. He would never engage in the types of conversations we have in the wee small hours about the meaning of life. That’s not him although he does have a liking for Mario Lanza singing Ave Maria and The Lord’s Prayer if those count! I’ve never known him to deny God but am aware of his struggles over the years and even understand some of them.
On one of the sunny afternoons last week we set out to buy the new Bible. This proved to be a pleasant experience as the girl who assisted us was kind and very patient. She provided a chair and laid out a number of Bibles for Dad to browse at his leisure. He knew what he was looking for and smiled when he found it.
He settled on a beautiful burgundy leather bound NIV and as he paid for it I knew that it would become a family treasure. I liked that idea and found is hugely comforting. Maybe I should get him to write something inside it.
We shared a slice of apple pie and a pancake over a cup of tea while we chatted (well I did most of the talking) but I could see he was becoming tired.
Back home and settled in his favourite chair, quite out of the blue, he began to recite something I’d never heard before:
There’s a book that my Mother gave me
That I read when the long day is through
And the stories of old
In leaves edged with gold
Guide me whatever I do
For I know in its worn old pages
I shall find peace of mind when I look
And the wisdom of all the ages
Will be there in my Mother’s book
It was incredibly moving just listening to him and I had to ask what it was. It turns out these are lyrics from a 1950s song called ‘The Book’, sung by tenor David Whitfield. Ah! He hadn’t heard it for years but the afternoon’s purchase triggered a nice memory. I managed to find it on iTunes and now he can listen to it at his leisure.
While Dad is going through the process of losing his short-term memory he is re-discovering and re-connecting to the past and to his story. The things that make him who he is.
It’s not difficult to make our encounters with older people worthwhile. We only need to scratch beneath the surface to be opened up to a world that existed before we did but, more importantly, still exists because they do. Amazing.