He was a man handsome in his build. No sign of the paunch most men his age have by the time they reach his age of 75ish. White hair with only minimal receding, looking unkempt as if by the time he was ready to comb his hair, he had forgotten the task. His way of dressing reminded me of a man on the golf course with colors purposely a bit bold, but matching in a way that was familiar to this white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. He, I ccame to know bit later, was an Episcopalian priest. He didn’t tell me that he was, I saw his picture in his shared room at the nursing home. He never really came out and agreed that he was when I saw the long white church garb with a band of colored cloth worn around his neck with the two ends loose in front decorated with a cross.
I brought him an Episcopalian prayer book. When I asked him questions about his church, he searched his drawer next to the bed and found a brochure answering frequently asked questions about his denomination. It felt like an act of kindness to me.
He needed help most of the time, getting to his room. His dementia had progressed to the point when he would be confused as to the purpose of his nimbly walking the hallways. He would get stuck, standing in the hallway, quite immobilized and unable to take the next step. “Walk with me, Fredrick”, and he would begin, happy and relieved to have a purpose again.
Early on in this four week adventure, he confided to me that he walks at night as well. He doesn’t always recognize his room and can walk unannounced into another person living with dementia’s room. This is usually followed by turbulence. He said, under his breath, while we were sharing a pizza, that I didn’t want to know all the goings on. His tome was salacious, but his intent was obscure. Was He enlisting my help? Did he want me to jump in and beg for details? Was he testing me and my comfort in talking about personal sexual matters? My dementia brain knew a play was being made, but I couldn’t move through which strategy I wished to respond, so I opted to just let it go.
The pinnacle of our relationship occurred one day when he was stuck again, looking pained as well as confused. He swung out one arm and made a dramatic noise that was sort of like ‘boka’. It wasn’t threatening so I copied him by doing my own ‘boka’ kicking out my arm. In then a Godly moment, we almost skipped up the hallway, like Dorothy and her friends on the yellow brick road. Only adding ninja moves along the way. It was an unmistakable bubble of joy as we strutted our stuff. We were in the moment as they say.
The following Sunday I went to church services there at the rehabilitation center. Rehabilitation really was a misnomer because many of the folks were in different stages of dementia. None of them lacking a sense of humor. When we first met, Fred asked me to call him Fredrick, not Fred which sort of belied our relationship. It was one of friendship but skewed in the fog of discernment which we both traveled.
The day I visited with my daughter, Fred asked to speak with me privately as he needed to tell me something. He said in a whisper that was louder than a whisper, that he liked young boys and did I have a son. I tried the strategy of ignoring that remark and moved to introduce him to my daughter. He followed, whispering in a real whisper that I shouldn’t tell her what we had just talked about.
Days later I walked him back to his room that had a big sign with his name on it. He asked me to sit on his roommate’s bed, who was nowhere to be found, and he suddenly went to his knees and raised his hands in supplication to God. I didn’t understand any of his words but I hope he made peace with God.
Yesterday, I went to work and the Fred’s name was no longer on his door. His bed had been stripped. The priestly books and pictures cleared out. My buddy, Mr. Black said he didn’t like to talk about it, but the police took him away. No one spoke of it. I didn’t inquire of the head nurse, I believed Mr. Black.
I don’t know why God put Fred in my life. He was nicer than Fredrick the priest. I hoped he confessed to God the sore in his soul. May we do the same? I list child predators as folks I detest in my prayer journal. I fight to pray for them rather than hang the vestments of hatred around his neck. Like the most righteous person- how about Mother Teresa, you, me and Fred are all just folks who have done bad stuff and need forgiveness.
I can’t imagine how the criminal justice system will manage this. Fred is vulnerable in his dementia state and how that will enter into his crime is yet to be seen. May we pray for his forgiveness and justice for his victims.