The good news of Easter for people with dementia

As the global church looks forward to Holy Week next month, at Bright Shadow we are asking ourselves ‘what do Easter, dementia and faith have to do with each other’?

Broadly speaking, Easter is a time of renewed hope and celebration. However living with dementia (whether it’s your diagnosis or someone you love) can sometimes leave you feeling anything but hopeful or celebratory. But fortunately the truth and power of the good news of Easter is not contingent on our emotions or circumstance. The gospel transcends all earthly circumstance and is good news for everyone all the time.

The question is how is it good news for people with dementia in particular? Here are three reasons why Easter, and the events of over 2000 years ago, can bring a particular encouragement for people with dementia:

  1. Jesus is no stranger to suffering.

In the days leading up to His death Jesus experienced fear, anxiety, abandonment, loneliness, physical pain, emotional trauma and ridicule. So often people with dementia, and their family members, can experience these things too. So when friends or family no longer come to visit, we can remember how Jesus’ disciples couldn’t even stay awake with him in His hour of need, or how they denied even knowing him. When our sense of identity is called into question by dementia, we can remember how Jesus’ identity as the son of God was called into question by the council. When we are feeling anxious about what the future holds, we can remember that Jesus was so anxious he sweat drops of blood. When we feel like no one else understands our suffering, we can be sure that Jesus does. And not only does he understand, he underwent suffering himself so that he could be with us in ours.

  1. New Life

When Jesus burst forth from the grave he showed us that once and for all death had been beaten, that life wins. At it’s core, dementia is about death. Simplistically, it is about brain cells – physical matter – dying. But Jesus’ resurrection shows us that physical death is no longer the most powerful force at work. The resurrection shows us that there is life after death, both in this life and the next. If someone is struggling with the slow loss of a person they love due to dementia, we can encourage them that because of the resurrection, they will be restored again. One day, those brain cells will have new life. Memories, brain function and personality traits will all be restored. And in this life we still believe in miracles. We believe God can use desperate situations and bring about something good. Jesus broke out of the grave, Jonah escaped the belly of the big fish, and people with dementia can still enjoy that promise of life to the full that Jesus gives us.

  1. Sovereignty.

Once Jesus had been placed in the tomb, lots of people probably felt like they were the ones in control: the high priests and their council, Pontius Pilot, Herod, Roman guards, the devil all thought the ball was in their court. However, the moment Jesus rose from the dead was the moment everyone knew who was really in control. Easter tells us that God is one hundred percent sovereign in all situations. It tells us that He is always at work, even when it looks like He isn’t. And so when dementia often looks like it is in control, feels like it is in control and acts like it’s in control, as Christians we know that ultimately it isn’t. God is. God has the ultimate control over any situation. He sees the beginning from the end. He knows how each person’s dementia will progress. He knows what care and support they need. He knows them. And He is in control.

Our hope is that these truths can be used to bring encouragement and comfort to people affected by dementia. They may need to be sensitively delivered in different ways for different people depending on their circumstances-there is nothing worse than a theological truth flippantly stated without any pastoral care or wisdom, as if it’s a one-time fix-all. Our hope is that these thoughts will be used to simply lift peoples’ gaze to the One who is all seeing, all knowing and all powerful. To the One who suffers for and with us, to the One who promises new life and to the One who is in control.

Easter, dementia and faith: a mighty combination.

For more information on Bright Shadow’s work with churches to help them become dementia inclusive, please see our Creative Congregations page.

For more thoughts on Dementia and Spirituality, please read our article here.