Memories Matter - Bishop Nigel’s latest article in the Courier and Advertiser
Yesterday I stood with the Lord Provost and others on the steps of the Caird Hall in Dundee’s City Square to keep the traditional two minutes silence to commemorate the Armistice at the end of the First World War. To remember, lest we forget, the sacrifices of those in many wars who fought for freedom, justice and peace. Even now the dangers remain for British service personnel completing the Afghanistan hand-over; and some places in the world, like Syria, are tragically war-torn.
As I stood silently and shoppers paused to join us I thought about my late father who served in the RAF during the Second World War. In my hand I was holding, as I always do each year, his war service Bible inscribed with the airman’s motto - ‘per ardua ad astra’ – through adversity to the stars. There are certainly people - and some things - we never forget; and in God’s love we can find peace and some happiness, even amidst our tears and regrets of lost life and love.
November is a season of remembering as the golden autumn countryside is frosted, the days shorten and the first snow dusts the hilltops of Courier country. For some older people memories seem all that remain, while for many memory is sadly not what it once was or life is just too complicated to think beyond each day.
An increasing number of longer-living elderly people is presenting society with a challenging set of care issues. Like many folk I have Power of Attorney for an aunt in her nineties who has dementia and lives in a specialist care home. My godmother and a career teacher, she sadly no longer recognises me or family photographs and stories.
Dementia is a devastating illness, robbing people of the precious gift of memory and replacing it with uncertainty and confusion. It is estimated that ninety per cent of care home residents suffer from some kind of dementia. Interestingly, Scotland is the best place in the UK for a diagnosis to be picked up.
Recently, together with my fellow trustees of St Margaret’s Residential Home in Dundee (a Scottish Episcopal Church foundation), I visited the Dementia Services Development Centre, a charity based at Stirling University. Directed by the inspirational Professor June Andrews it is a truly remarkable place at the cutting edge of supporting dementia sufferers and their families. Their designs for supported living are simply amazing and I commend their advice and publications to any Courier readers fearful of coping with a relative affected by dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease and early signs of dementia are worrying topics but I was struck how June and her colleagues bring a practical realism, warmth and hope which is heartening. The dignity we afford the elderly with all their physical and mental frailties is a measure of our stature as a family and community.
This article appeared in the Courier and Advertiser on Friday, 15th November 2013.