During college I had the privilege of caring for a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. From the start, she captivated me with her gentle spirit, her many stories from her years as a music teacher in the public schools, and her sense of humor. She had a sense of gratitude that I never expected in somebody with her condition and often, during meals, she would stop eating, grab my hand, and looking into my eyes would exclaim, “You are the best!” As time went on and her memory continued to leave her, our conversations grew shorter, often more repetitive, and much of our time was spent just being together and enjoying watching the world pass in each other’s company. I watched the contradictions of Alzheimer’s; how she grew increasingly confused about the world around her yet still remembered how to play the harp beautifully and still answered the Wheel of Fortune puzzles faster than I ever could.
My last year of college, I sensed that the Alzheimer’s was progressing and I remember when we sat down next to her beloved harp and she stared blankly at the instrument not knowing what to do with the strings in front of her. One evening, as I was getting her ready for bed, per her usual routine we began saying evening prayers and at the end, she took my hands and said the Our Father. As the months progressed, the Our Father often was one of the few phrases throughout the day that she could coherently utter. I thought of the many times she must have said the prayer throughout her life, and how so often the Our Father for me had become a rote prayer. There was nothing rote, however, about holding her fragile hand in mine and saying the prayer together, wondering each time if it would be one of the last times we would be able to say the prayer together.
So often, I say the Our Father without thinking much about the words I utter or what it is I am asking of God, but I learned from my experiences as a caregiver, the power of this prayer and the completeness of its words. So whether we say it in the quiet of our hearts, in the sanctuary of a church, or while holding the hands of a loved one, may we trust that God will give us our daily bread and hold us in the palm of His hands.
- Jean Baumgardner, 2009-2010 Passionist Volunteer International in Honduras, is presently a graduate student at the Seattle University to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.