If Not Us, Tell Me Who?
by Sheila Welch,
Developer/Coordinator, Loving Through Dementia,
PAC Certified Independent Trainer
One of the greatest blessings of my life comes from sharing the lives of care partners as they love family members through Alzheimers or related dementias. Isolated and lonely, their needs guide our dementia education ministry at every turn.
Often, through tears, they tell me some version of the following;
My wife and I supported, loved, and participated in our church for all of our lives … until dementia came. Now, friends, family, even clergy do not visit or call.
Theologian, John Swinton tells us,
The problem is not that people with dementia forget. The problem is that they are forgotten.
Retired Bishop Kenneth Carder adds that when the Church forgets these families, it would be easy for them to believe that God has forgotten them, also.
Care partners often ask, where is God in all of this? My faith tells me that God is where He has always been … holding His children. The question is, where are we, the church, and the community in all of this?
How do we begin to better serve families facing dementia? The answers will be as different as are the faiths, the communities, and the leaders themselves.
Our own dementia outreach at Due West United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia began with a simple conversation in our church parking lot. Two friends, each loving their mothers through Alzheimers, found life altering comfort in sharing their journeys. They invited others to join them for what became our first Alzheimers Family Support Group. They had no budget and no plan. What they did have was a shared conviction that they were making a positive difference in the lives of these often forgotten families.
Today, the conversation that began in our church parking lot continues to grow. Loving Through Dementia, our free, all volunteer, dementia ministry, serves over 50 families monthly through multiple support groups and private consultations. We serve hundreds of families yearly through annual Care Partners’ Conferences, workshops, and seminars. Two years ago, our new annual Multi-Faith and Community Leaders’ Workshop began guiding other leaders to better serve these families.
The recent launching of our website, lovingthroughdementia.org transformed this local ministry into a global one. It provides guidance for families and leaders of all faiths. It provides an action plan, a list of ways for churches and communities, small and large, to better serve. It offers guidance and resources to help make their choice of service a reality, sending the very clear message, you are not alone.
Ours is a thriving ministry, yes, but that is not my message here. My message is this … we did not begin where we are today. It is not important how big the beginning … it is beginning that is important.
At our 2019 Leaders’ Workshop, Rev. Linn Possell asked, if not now, tell me when? Our ministry simply adds … If not us, tell me who?
Sheila Welch is a Dementia Family Advocate, Educator, and PAC Certified Independent Trainer. She is the Developer/Coordinator of Loving Through Dementia: a free, all volunteer, ministry that offers help, hope, inspiration, and dementia education to families facing dementia and provides resources and guidance for all faiths and all communities who seek to better serve these families. Her mother, four aunts and uncles, and a beloved cousin have been lost to Alzheimers. Her own family’s journey, along with the journeys of the families she serves inspire her work today. Resources and guidance can be found at lovingthroughdementia.org.