Ignatian Volunteer Emilie Gillanders works with adults suffering from moderate to severe dementia at the Lincolnia Adult Day Health Care Center. The Center provides respite care during the day while caregivers are at work or just enjoying a “day off”. Care is provided on a sliding scale by Fairfax County, VA. As a Staff Volunteer, which requires annual training, Emilie is a committed part of the Center’s operations and able to contribute her professional background as a nurse. She is a 5-year Ignatian Volunteer. Emilie shares an extraordinary day:
“When I arrived at the Center, a colleague told me that one of our participants had died rather suddenly of a very aggressive form of thyroid cancer. Several of the other participants had become very attached to him and this would be difficult news for them to hear. She asked if I would share this news with them. She didn’t feel comfortable doing this and thought I might be better able to guide the conversation because of my experience with spiritual reflection. I told her that I would be happy to.
“She identified two people who she thought should hear the news in a more private setting. One was a gentleman who is very withdrawn and does not speak. The other is a woman who has moderate dementia. She is aware of what is happening around her and has kept many of her social skills but would not be able to tell you where or when she was born. They had both formed strong bonds with the gentleman who passed away. His name was Essie. ”
“We went into a separate room and I shared the news with them. The gentleman started to cry. He was overcome with emotion. He said, ‘I loved Essie. I loved him. I miss him.’
“I had never heard him speak before. This news sparked something deep inside him. I never would have thought he would be moved to speak but he needed to share what he was feeling. We spent some time talking about Essie and how difficult it is to lose someone we care deeply for. I asked if they would like me to read something from the Bible that might be comforting for them. ‘Yes’, they said they’d like that. ”
“I read Psalm 23 several times – ‘the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want’. I had read it to my father when he was dying. We had a discussion about why this psalm is soothing. Then the woman requested that we read another. She chose the first psalm, which I was unfamiliar with. Here is a woman who is unsure of her age and yet she recited every word of that psalm. ”
“I saw God’s hand in that . You lose so much suffering from dementia and it was amazing to me that something good like that psalm stayed with her. It was so clearly significant and comforting. The session was a comfort to them both. I felt really good about being able to share in this powerful moment and be present with them.”