Closed a decade now, it was a crumbling place that had seen better days, a relic of “aul’ decency” patronised by what a colleague would call “dear old things.” Many of the dear old things were from times when Twenty-First Century expectations were unknown, when single rooms with en suite facilities were not expected. It had more the feel of a big house than a nursing home, though the weekly fees were more the rate one would pay in a city hotel. Visits were made in a big drawing room, where residents had their habitual chairs. Visiting more than one person required taking a seat around the room, so loathe were they to give up their accustomed places.
Once a month, on the second Tuesday at eleven o’clock, there was a Holy Communion service. This was no informal gathering around a table, rather it was as full a liturgy as would be found in a parish church. A pianist came to accompany the singing of three hymns, the full traditional language service was used, and the clergyman was expected to robe (so great was the aversion to the idea that a woman might be ordained that one dear old thing regarded the rector being married to a woman priest as sufficient cause to absent herself from the worship, and insisted an outsider come to conduct her funeral). Even a sermon was expected.
The monthly celebration of the sacrament was taken seriously by staff at the home. A table was placed in the centre of the room, covered in a fair, linen cloth and adorned with flowers. The worshippers would gather long before the appointed time and would sit in prayerful silence, those who were not mobile would be wheeled to the room by staff members.
One lady lingers in the memory, let’s call her Marilyn. Marilyn had been a much respected nurse in her working days, a woman who had cared for many people. In her retirement years, the dark shadow of Alzheimer’s Disease had slowly spread its destructive effects through her brain and month by month her capacities seemed further reduced.
Marilyn had been a devout church member in her former days and would be brought into the room with a nurse at her side. Conversation had ceased to be possible, Marilyn sat in a chair, staring fixedly into the middle distance. Hymns and prayers passed her by. Yet at each Communion, a moment of transcendence seemed to occur, circulating the room with the paten of bread and the chalice of wine, there was a certainty that, when Marilyn was reached, she would raise her hands to receive the sacrament. All else might have gone, but a moment of Communion still remained.
Reading the words of James Montgomery’s hymn,”According to thy gracious word,” thoughts of Marilyn returned. The final stanza seems almost an anticipation of Marilyn’s state:
And when these failing lips grow dumb,
and mind and memory flee,
when thou shalt in thy kingdom come,
Jesus, remember me.
“And mind and memory flee,”might have been written of her, yet, somewhere in the shadowlands, Jesus was remembered and he remembered.