Tuesday 28 September 2010

Fully alive

How appropriate is it to say of someone with dementia that part of him or her has already died? This was one of the things talked about when the diocese’s Safeguarding Adviser ran a trial study morning for four clergy yesterday; I went to help me reflect further on a subject about which I blogged on 14th July and 1st August.

In one sense it is literally true. Brain cells have died. But we would not use the language of someone who had lost the function of a different part of the body; someone who is blind, or has lost a limb, or who lives without a kidney.

In another sense it is metaphorically true. Something almost essential to our relating has been lost. But the metaphor makes more sense from the perspective of the one relating than it does to the person with dementia.

It is language with which many carers and partners are not only happy but actually find helpful. We heard more than one say this. But we heard one take a step further speaking of ‘watching someone die’ which might even appear to place care of those with dementia on the hospice rather than the care home side of a line.

The majority view was that the way the language made sense to carers and partners clearly made it appropriate. It would seem quite cruelly in their faces to challenge them about it. But the majority recognised why I remain deeply uncomfortable with language which open up a door to thinking of people with dementia (and thus in some ways relating to them) as anything less than fully alive people fully in the image of God.

Meanwhile, the light on the flowers in St Nicolas’ illustrates a side benefit of a move I made a little while ago to rationalise the random proliferation of furniture in the sanctuary there; the more simple arrangement only fitted together when the flower stand was moved from the north side of the altar to the south side, but ever since I have enjoyed the occasions when the light has fallen on them from the south facing window.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Gear change jolts

It is the change of gear in this job to which I have never quite got used.

Returning from a difficult Funeral to be caught by someone’s urgent and immediately demanding trivialities. Trying to settle to prayers with a preoccupation still spinning round. Finding the level for a ‘Key Stage One’ assembly in the morning and an adult cross examination about the Pope’s opinions at a dinner in the evening. Returning from a complex personnel issue as a school or college Governor to an attempt to finish a piece writing or preparation with any creativity. And today’s jolt was as sharp as it comes.

The wedding at St Michael’s was fun. Quite apart from the pleasure of the couple and the congregation, we had Harvest flowers just in place, the newly decorated walls, a glow I hadn’t seen before in the steam cleaned carpet, freshly dusted surfaces (every single one of them - the picture illustrates the necessary post-redecoration process), a lively choir, and an exchange of happy news among them - all evidence of a huge amount of generously given time.

Then the message waiting at home was that the Hospital wanted someone to come in straight away. The frequency of these calls varies with the availability of the official Chaplains and, when they do come, are most common on a Saturday; almost always the call is to a dying patient or to his or her family, or to baptise on the neo-natal unit or (most frequently, but not today) following a still birth. Although the call is always the result of a request by a patient or immediate relative, sometimes some members of a distraught extended family express quietly and understandably their hostility to the idea of God at all.

For what it is worth, I’ve never expected the words I find myself using in either such setting to be adequate to the task (which is just as well) but some of the words of blessing I did speak over the newly married couple and in the hospital were in fact the same.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Nameless of Irby

The body of a baby abandoned at Addlethorpe last year was buried there in July after a funeral in the local church. Neither the identity of the baby nor that of his mother has been traced. The name Jacob was used. A local businessman met the costs involved, including those of a memorial.

Jacob’s death and burial is just one modern repetition of what we know is really a common story. I’ve been doing a tiny bit of research about an earlier one using the microfilm records in the Grimsby Central Library. The story is that behind the memorial in Irby churchyard to which Rod Collins’ Blog drew attention a short while ago.

There are records of all the burials at Irby between 1813 and 1996 on the microfilm. For only one of these is there no name. It was on 21st February 1888. The Parish Priest recorded:

By Coroners Order for Burial: I reverently committed to the grave the remains of the body of a new born child found in the parish.

With a date established, it was not then too difficult to find an item in the microfilm of the Grimsby News of 24th February 1888:

On Monday, an inquest was held… on... the remains of the body of a newly born child, sex unknown, which was discovered in a green field which belongs to Mr W Nainby on Sunday last. John Vickers, aged 13, in the employ of Mr Nainby stated that he was crossing the green field when he noticed a flock of crows ‘picking at something’… The remains of the body looking as if they had been buried and scratched up by a dog or some animal.

So the discovery (of what had been a shallow grave) was on Sunday 19th , the inquest (in a house in the village) was on Monday 20th , and the burial (with the Coroner’s say so) was on Tuesday 21st.

If the mother (or some other person) had buried the body a good while earlier then decomposition in the ground rather than the pecking of the crows may have been the reason that the sex of the child could not be determined, but they are rather gruesome details.

I remain a little troubled by the memorial stone. ‘Nameless’ seems much more harsh than ‘Unknown’, and possibly untrue. The text ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Numbers 32.23) seems misplaced in seeking to address a third person rather than God or the reader. ‘A child known to God’ and something like ‘To such belongs the Kingdom’ or ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God’ would somehow be less troubling.

But I realise that not knowing the sex of the child would have been one barrier to giving him or her a name like Jacob, and the person who chose the text would just have had the experience of dealing with the decomposing body of an unknown child.

Monday 6 September 2010

Friday 3 September 2010

Beauty for my blindness

A sort of new year begins and I am going to read more poetry and be much less involved in church organisation.

The first and largest beam for the new building is standing aside as Rural Dean and as Chair of the Deanery’s Mission Area Planning Group. I don’t imagine that much of a gap will open up around the vacancies as (no doubt the result of my own character faults shown up in the ways I’ve put up backs when I’ve tried to insist on alternative approaches) the norm is now that my e-mails or letters to diocesan staff do not get acknowledged, and realistic input isn’t requested from there or elsewhere before strategies for the area are developed. I expect some sort of desire to be at the centre of things has stopped me making this obvious move when I should have done so sooner.

The other building material has been piling up around me since the real New Year. I happen to have tried to write one or two things again myself (and immodestly blogged the texts) and have found this more sustaining than pretending to myself that I am at the centre of things. Also, since blogging about some texts of his, I’ve been doing things like having both a biography and the collected works of Walter de la Mare by my bed through which I am working very very slowly; the poem of his to which I am returning most at the moment has an appropriate sense of confession and hope.

For all the grief I have given with words
May now a few clear flowers blow,
In the dust, and the heat, and the silence of birds,
Where the friendless go.

For the things unsaid that the heart asked of me
Be a dark, cool water calling - calling
To the footsore, benighted, solitary,
When the shadows are falling.

O, be beauty for all my blindness,
A moon in the air where the weary wend,
And dews burdened with loving kindness
In the dark of the end.

The picture is another of Lake Siljan taken from Leksand Rectory.