When Life Gives us Bad News

Over the weekend, I attended a conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, sponsored by the Mayo Clinic and the Alzheimer’s Association of North Dakota and Minnesota. I decided to attend because I have close family members who have/have had this life-robbing disease, and I wanted to learn more about various aspects of the illness.

One of the sessions was a panel with four people — two who have early onset Alzheimer’s and their life partners. A woman who has the disease was diagnosed at age 50 and the other in his early 40’s. All four spoke of their anger at getting the diagnosis, their fears about the future and about personal finances, their ways of coping with the various kinds of loss they’ve been experiencing.

 When asked about what sustains them, both couples mentioned their religious communities as a great source of support. Speaking of her life partner, one woman said, “The Sunday after Sue received her diagnosis, she stood up in church to tell the congregation. It took so much courage for her to do that, and we’ve received so much support.” The wife of the fellow who’d been diagnosed in his early 40’s spoke gratefully of their Catholic parish and the care they’ve experienced, as well as the spiritual growth they’ve experienced while struggling with the illness.

It made me wonder what kinds of support our congegations offer to our own members who have this or other life-changing diagnoses — encouragement, empathy, love, as well as actual time spent in assisting the family with respite care, parish nursing care, difficult decisions that need to be made?

If you think your congregation has an excellent pastoral care or support system in place to aid your members during times of great difficulty, please let me know. I’d be happy to find ways for you to share what you do and what you’ve learned, to help other congregations be able to do more. Having heard what a difference it has made in the lives of the panelists, I would like to think that our members would say the same for what they’ve received in their own congregations. If not, can we make it happen?


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