UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Photo of Rochelle Graham by David A. Graham

Verbatim

‘The body has dementia, but the soul doesn’t.’

By Donald Grayston


Rochelle Graham is a physiotherapist living in Sidney, B.C., a recent Vancouver School of Theology graduate and a candidate for ordination in the United Church. In 1998, she founded the Healing Pathway, a program that reclaims the ministry of healing for the church and is now found in more than 100 United Church congregations. 

On the spiritual roots of the Healing Pathway: When I taught my first course on healing, at B.C.’s Naramata Centre, the course participants kept challenging me to connect what I was doing with our faith. As we kept on asking, “What does it mean to carry on the healing mission of Jesus?” the work evolved. When I invited the participants to ask God to work through their hands, it was as though someone had turned on 100 light bulbs in the room.

On her interest in dementia: Working as a physiotherapist for many years in acute care and residential care, I met many frail elderly [people], some of them on the cusp of dementia. I soon recognized that for the most part, the church was not meeting their spiritual needs. Working with them has become my passion and my greatest joy in life — that and my grandchildren!

On attitudes toward dementia: Fear of dementia is the greatest fear of the elderly; they are less afraid of actually dying. The medical model of response primarily sees the disability. But if I focus on your ability, I empower you. And if I look for God in the person with dementia, I can reach in deeply, connect and see the light. When I look at persons with dementia, I want to see them with the eyes of God.

On the church’s response: We have so much to offer through the church. But I have to say that there is plenty of room for growth in the church’s response. When I told the B.C. Conference examiners who were considering me as a candidate for ordination that in my ministry I wanted to focus on persons with dementia, I realized from their response that this was not the typical focus in congregations, most of which focus on survival, on just keeping the doors open. We hire youth ministers; why not ministers for the elderly? It’s the elderly, after all, who very largely fund the church’s ability to keep those doors open. 

On dementia and public health care: It’s not a priority for government funding. Many health-care workers experience the work as a calling, but they aren’t supported by the system. There is little education for health-care workers and community volunteers to help them see the person beyond the diagnosis. The church has a role to play here.

On spiritual care for those with dementia: Everyone’s spirituality is unique. I ask people what makes them feel most alive — music, animals, nature, religious practice — whatever helps them experience God’s grace. Whatever the answer, that is what connects them with strong, positive emotions: joy, peacefulness, connectedness. When we know what that is for someone, we can find ways to connect with them pastorally. The body has dementia, but the soul doesn’t.

This interview has been condensed and edited.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image