Why memories are so precious

Christadelphian Aged Care Homes
– By Bruce Philp, Volunteer Pastoral Carer, Southhaven
“In England, you know,” said my dear old friend, “we used to have parsley with very curly leaves.”
I have known many Christadelphian Aged Care residents, but this one was special to me: our neighbour who looked after me as a child when my mother was in hospital.
I had brought her some kitchen herbs – parsley, coriander, thyme, basil and so on. I doled them out to her and she greeted them, holding them up to see, smelling them, and trying to recall their names.
“It’s on the tip of my tongue,” she’d say, and I prompted her. “Thyme, of course!” or “Yes, rosemary!” or “Sage, oh yes, you put it in chicken stuffing.”
The words were like old friends, too, coming back with the memories. She used both types of parsley in Australia, but she  remembered England: her father bringing vegetables from his allotment, her life as a single mother when her husband was away in the War. On other occasions she would tell me about myself as a child, sometimes more than I wanted to know.
Now that my own memory is not what it was, I need her example.She was aware of what was happening, and was gracious. “Did I just say that?” she said with a laugh. Many like her are content to live in the moment, but others are less fortunate, worried by the new uncertainties.
Recently I woke with a start, anxious about a childhood fact forgotten.Nowadays I could just reach for my phone, press buttons and have the answer. Still, I lay for a while thinking about the anxiety – how unreasonable, yet so real at the time.
So I got thinking of ‘the Homes’ and the effort that goes into giving peaceful security to residents, even as far as dementia-aware architecture. I thought of how music is being used in aged care, and of Christadelphian Aged Care’s efforts to provide pastoral care appropriate to residents’ beliefs and needs.
I hide behind a cowardly joke, appealing to you in tourism talk: “Be moved to see how happy the old folk are when a baby comes to visit! See them love their own grown up children! Be thrilled as people wind back forty or fifty years when given the chance to sing! Marvel at the long patience and good humour of staff! Be amazed by the enduring love of those who visit and visit again!” But joking doesn’t help: we need gratitude, duty and love together, bringing their own peaceful happiness.
Every day is different, as health, perception and memory itself vary. Some old folk might not recognise their own family, yet might still connect with them through the words of songs. Others can take you back to an old Australia, with backyard tennis courts, sawdust on the floor of butcher shops, feats of endurance or marksmanship in the bush, or nation-building immigration. Another tells inside stories of old scandals in politics and business, others are happy to talk about their families.
We live with sadness, and regret for words not said or gestures not made, but I have never heard friends or family regret visiting their loved one too often. It is hard to visit, to find time, to get through traffic, to walk in and perhaps see a loved one’s deterioration; and it can be terribly hard to say goodbye and take fresh memories straight back out into the traffic – but we will always be glad  we did it.