Six months ago she was living in her own house and driving her car around the neighbourhood; a little forgetful at times, but aren’t we all? When you’re more than halfway through the ninth decade of your life, you’re allowed to be a little absent-minded.
Then came a day when everything seemed to snap.The hospital came up with some odd diagnosis, to friends it seemed clearer. It was almost as though a boulder had reached the edge of a hilltop slope and suddenly began to roll downhill, gathering momentum as it went. Each day was worse than the preceding; the short term memory loss was quickly followed by an increasing loss of all memory.
Meeting her at the clinic this morning, I took her arm and we shuffled together into the Holy Communion service. My greetings were met by a half-smile and I found myself in a monologue as I helped her safely into a chair.
We began our service; its Sixteenth Century words would have been familiar to someone who was a devout Christian all her days and who was passionate in her involvement in a series of choirs. I watched from the corner of my eye as we went through the service, not a response. Even when the hymnbook was opened for her and the words pointed out, her soprano voice remained silent.
We came to the sursum corda, an ancient part of the Communion liturgy familiar to Christians around the world.
‘Lift up your hearts’, I said.
‘We lift them up to the Lord’, she responded along with the rest of the group.
There were no further words; simply a silent lifting of her hands to receive the Communion bread and to take the chalice of wine.
In the midst of her catastrophic decline, the grace of God seemed still present.