Respite, Faith, Hope and the “-ites”
by Mary Anne Oglesby-Sutherly,
Executive Director of Veranda Ministries and PAC Certified Independent Trainer, Consultant, and Mentor
Imagine a faith-based respite program that has a Sunday morning service designed for those living with dementia. Can you believe that it’s not a fifteen-minute service, but a two-hour service where everyone can and does participate? As a PAC Consultant, I knew it was possible, and this is our story.
The dictionary provides two related but different definitions of faith. The first describes faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone.” In my career as a PAC Consultant, Coach, and Trainer for those living with dementia, my faith has been tested many times. It seems like only yesterday I placed my complete trust in the teachings of Teepa and PAC principles. In that trust, my confidence in caring for those with dementia has grown.
The other definition of faith is “a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” As the director of a faith-based respite program in Tennessee, I have the privilege to engage my special friends with dementia in many different activities. I have seen first-hand just how important their faith is to them, regardless of their individual belief system. All people need to find purpose and feel productive: nurses, doctors, CEOs, teachers, farmers, clergy, church musicians, and bible class teachers. All people need a place of refuge where they find peace. As a PAC Consultant with a strong personal faith, I recognize that people who have strong connections with a community of faith, need to encounter a faith experience similar to what they had enjoyed before dementia entered their lives. I knew there had to be a special worship service where all could come together and find peace.
During our first church service, all the GEMS®, with the exception of a PEARL, were in attendance. A mix of different faiths and beliefs joined as one that morning. Many smiles and lots of singing in the room. Teachers taught and clergy preached. My staff and I sat back and watched our friends step back in time, giving us another glimpse into their personalities before dementia. It was amazing. They were in charge… not someone telling them what to do or how to feel. It was their service, not ours.
Our AMBER, Karen, spent nearly 40 years teaching Sunday school. On this particular morning, Karen picked up her Bible and began reading the morning’s first lesson. Karen was doing well until she reached verses that contained several biblical family names … Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, and several other ones that ended with ite. Karen hesitated as she looked at the page. Frustration crept across her face as confusion by the name similarities grew. Suddenly, our RUBY, Marie … who barely had the ability to form a complete sentence or hold a conversation on most days, laid her Bible on the table, leaned over it and picked up where Karen had faltered. Marie read the next several verses word for word, never missing a beat on those tricky family names, to finish the passage. Needless to say, I was stunned. Then Marie looked up and said, “Shoot, all those ites are something!” Karen graciously smiled as we all laughed.
Of the many stories from that special day, this one about our EMERALD, Shirley, makes me smile every time I think about it. She arrived bright and shiny, dressed in her Sunday best with Bible in hand and singing as she entered the room in grand style. Shirley proudly announced she was here and for everyone to get ready because “Good things are going to happen today!” Shirley came expecting great things. She truly was where she spent most of her life.
Just as we were ending our service, Shirley raised her hand to speak, “You have forgot something, honey.” Out of her Bible she pulled out an envelope and said, “You have not taken up the offering.”
My friend did not know what month it was, what day it was. She did not care that everyone in that room had different backgrounds. She only cared that she presented her offering. Shirley had always been a giver. Throughout her pre-dementia life, she gave to anyone in need. Although a disease called Alzheimers had robbed Shirley of many things, it did not steal her giving spirit. Shirley was truly whole that day. She had stepped back in time, grabbed a memory and in the present was in charge—a role she’d not had for a long time.
As a PAC professional, I witnessed our education flash before my eyes and many stories resulted from that day. As a director of an activity-based respite program, I witnessed our friends thrive, not just survive, in their journey. During our two-hour service, our GEMS sat hand-in-hand, content in their environment. No one cared about each other’s faith background. Friends from diverse beliefs loved each other. Their unmet need had been met. Is that not what we strive to do?
Each day I learn so much from those I have the honor to care for. On this day, I watched as the heart took over and a brain that was struggling to survive took a backseat. I say this all the time, and it still holds true, “I learn more about love each day from a group of people who do not even know my name.”
Mary Anne Oglesby-Sutherly has more than 20 years of experience in health and senior care industries, Mary Anne’s background in activity programs at an assisted living facility, an activity day program, coordinator for a care provider service, as well as a medical practice nurse, have helped establish the foundation for her mission in advocating for aging adults. Her compassion, love, and concern for the well-being of the senior adult population led to the creation of Veranda Ministries and the launch of The Veranda, a daily respite program for those living with dementia.
Mary Anne is the Executive Director of Veranda Ministries and holds triple certification as a PAC™ Certified Independent Trainer, Consultant, and Coach in Teepa Snow's Positive Approach® to Care. She is also certified by NCCDP as a Dementia Practitioner. Mary Anne currently serves as Vice President of Legislative Affairs for Tennessee Association of Adult Day Services (TAADS) and was recently asked to serve on the Mayor of Gallatin’s Senior Council.