Remembering | by Linda BrendleEssays, Featured — By Linda Brendle on July 2, 2012 at 5:11 am
We celebrated the Lord’s Supper at church last Sunday morning. It’s a beautiful service done in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, but remembering is not something Mom does very well. She is in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s, and Communion has become very confusing for her.
She grew up in the Baptist church where Communion is served once a quarter and on special occasions. The elements are passed by deacons, and following prayer and a word of meditation, everyone eats and drinks communally. Her recent experience has been very different. My brother Jim and my son Christian are both ministers in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where Communion is part of every service, and the elements are taken individually. Mom spends several weeks a year with Jim and visits Christian with us as often as possible, so most of her recent Communion experience has been of the DOC kind. A defective memory, poor impulse control, and the infrequency of the experience make the Baptist method difficult for her. The last time we had Communion in our home church, I tried to instruct her ahead of time.
“Mom, when they pass the bread, take it and hold it,” I whispered as the deacons made their way down the aisles.
“What,” she said in a rather loud voice.
I repeated my instructions a little louder.
“Take the bread and hold it,” she repeated to Daddy, loud enough for several rows around us to hear.
A minute later, when the plate was passed to us, she took a bit of cracker and promptly put it in her mouth.
When she noticed that everyone else was holding theirs, she announced, “I ate mine too soon.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured her as I broke mine and gave her part of it.
The whole process was repeated when the juice was passed, and it’s really hard to pour from one of those tiny cups to another without making a mess.
This week, considering my previous lack of success, I opted to skip the instructions and let her take Communion in her own way, hoping it would lead to less confusion and a more worshipful experience for all concerned. As the deacons began their work and the harp played softly in the background, I bowed my head and remembered. I remembered Jesus and His love, and I remembered previous Communion experiences.
Shortly before our wedding, my first husband said he felt he couldn’t be a Baptist. I said as long as we found a Christ-centered church where we could worship together, the name on the door wasn’t important. We found a lovely Episcopal church and went through confirmation classes. The Sunday of our first Communion, I tried hard to focus on the meaning of what I was doing, but I was more than a little intimidated by the unfamiliar ritual. I knelt and received the wafer, placing it on my tongue and whispering a prayer of thanksgiving as it dissolved. Then came the cup.
My husband delighted in telling how he could feel my rising tension. He attributed it to the fact that I was raised in the Deep South and the couple ahead of me was African-American. That wasn’t the problem. It was the cup. THE cup – one. I was used to having my own, tiny, sanitized, personal cup. I wasn’t used to sharing. We didn’t share at home, and we didn’t share at church. As a child I drank out of the jelly glass with the cartoon characters on it, and my brother drank from the mug formerly known as a peanut butter jar. Mom and Dad had more grown-up glasses, but they each had their own; nobody drank after anybody else. At family gatherings, chaos reigned, but nobody shared. There was a pen to personalize and protect each plastic glass. But here there was only ONE cup. I watched in dismay as the priest held the cup to the lips of each parishioner, then wiped the rim with a white linen cloth and turned the cup slightly so the next parishioner drank from a slightly different spot from the last – as if that was going to protect us from viruses and germs and other deadly microorganisms. But I remembered where I was and why, I sipped the wine, and I learned more about the community of Communion.
In time my husband attended church less, and I returned to the Baptist church. Christian seemed to enjoy church, especially the music and going to the donut shop beforehand, so he went with me. But he had questions about Communion. Communion practices have relaxed a bit since I was growing up in the buckle of the Bible belt, but the preference is still to limit participation to professed believers. Inevitably, this led to why can’t I have some questions, and I tried to turn his questions into teaching moments. The results of those and other teaching moments came after a service that included Communion.
“Next time we have Communion, I’m going to take it,” Christian said.
“You are?” I said. “What’s going to be different next time?”
“While you were taking Communion, I asked Jesus to come into my heart, and He said I could take it next time.”
Can’t argue with that!!
Twenty years later, Christian was living in Colorado with his wife and a son of his own. He and Amy, also a DOC minister, had planted a new church in Pueblo and were meeting in their home. David and I were visiting and were privileged to worship with them during one of their early services. Disciples and Baptists are brothers in more ways than one; after services, there was food. My grandson Mattias was at that crawling around and pulling up stage, and as people milled around and visited, he spotted the remains of Communion on the coffee table. With his eye on the tempting loaf of bread, he grabbed the edge of the table, stood, and stretched out his little hand toward the treat. I was wondering how to distract him when Christian knelt beside his son. While my narrow-minded side worried about the propriety of giving a baby Communion bread, Christian pinched off a small bit and put it into Mattias’ waiting mouth.
“Remember,” he whispered. “Jesus loves you very, very much.”
Another teaching moment!
Last Sunday my time of remembrance came to a close as the deacons returned to the front and the pastor stood up pray. My plans for dealing with Mother didn’t work out as well as I hoped. When the time came for everyone to partake, she forgot she had eaten her bread too soon, and she looked at Daddy and me with sad, puppy-dog eyes, wondering why she wasn’t allowed to participate. But if there is any up-side to Alzheimer’s, it’s that even the hurts and disappointments are quickly forgotten. Before Pastor Ken had made his closing remarks, the whole incident was lost in a mass of plaque-encrusted nerve tangles.
But one day she’ll get an invitation.
“Helen,” Jesus will say, “Why don’t you come home for supper.”
She will sit at His table, surrounded by the loved ones who are already there. And when she eats the bread and drinks the wine, she will remember.
I wrote this article in March of 2010. Mom passed away on May 20, 2012. Now she remembers.
Linda Brendle writes about caregiving, faith, and family at Life After Caregiving www.LifeAfterCaregiving.WordPress.com and can be found on Twitter www.twitter.com@LindaBrendle and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/linda.brendle.She is a frequent contributor to The Burnside Writers Collective as well as The Rains County Leader in Emory, Texas, Soul Sitters www.soulsitters.com , and Don’t Lose Heart www.dontloseheart.org.