I recently reactivated my acceptance to Texas State University and will begin classes in the fall toward a Master of Science in Dementia and Aging Studies. I have been applying to different essay scholarship contests to try to offset some of the costs.
Winner or not, I was proud of this one. It’s called Why I Am Special, as per the guidelines.
My grandfather could crack and scramble eggs with one hand, a trick he learned as a cook in the army. To be clear, he had two hands, it was just quicker to use only one. Though he only completed an 8th grade education, he was always reading everything he could get his hands on; a lifelong learner. He faithfully read his Bible every morning after breakfast and a spoonful of honey and apple cider vinegar, and was very handy with a welding torch.
I spent my college years visiting him on the weekends learning from his wisdom and going with him on visits to local nursing homes where he would play cards with the residents whose families never came to see them. His greatest fear was being forgotten, and so he didn’t want others to feel forgotten. When he died in 2010, I was given his Bible and his army cookbook.
Though I haven’t mastered the art of the one-handed egg, I have made it my life’s ambition to carry on his legacy of service to some of society’s most neglected: the isolated elderly. In May of 2013, I graduated with a Master of Divinity from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. My capstone was titled “Faith as Shared Memory: Engaging Senior Adults with Dementia in Church Community Life.” My theology and science paper was about dementia and personhood – highlighting various theologians’ theories of personhood and how dementia undermines aspects of personhood in each theory.
Through my relationship with my grandfather, I developed a passion for older adults, and through my studies in seminary, a dream of contributing to research on dementia and spirituality. I’m in my thirties, and I’m told that my passion for older adults and their fair treatment is unique for someone my age. I believe that makes me special. People have told me for years that “it takes a special person to do what you do.” Call it a chip on my shoulder, but I never responded well to comments like that. Doesn’t that seem kind of offensive? It always felt like I was giving people too much when they would ask what I wanted to do with my life.
“What are you planning to study?” they’d ask, and I’d respond with my plans to get a Master of Divinity and help the Church universal find new ways of ministering to older adults, particularly those with dementing illnesses. To this they would respond with some variation of “what a special thing.” I’m sure they meant well, but what I heard was “I don’t know how to respond to that, but it sounds… special.” When did “special” become an afterthought response, after every possible well-wish has been exhausted?
Anyway, these days, I’m increasingly convinced that they were right. It does take someone very special to do what I do, because what I do every day is exhausting and draining, and intense. It is also one of the most rewarding parts of my life, something without which I could ever imagine my life being complete.
I’m special because I didn’t let all those elementary school teachers who got frustrated with me get me down when I was too big for their standard-sized box. I’m special because I consider it the highest of honors when I am asked to play piano or violin for someone’s funeral, and because working in a church with so many older adults means that I have about 25 or more surrogate grandparents who tell me weekly “don’t forget to buy an umbrella,” “make sure you rest up this weekend,” and “don’t you work too hard!” I’m special because I have a great capacity to love, and I chose to use it by loving the ones our age-denying, death-defying society seems to have the hardest time loving.
My reach – for- the – stars dream is to obtain a Ph.D. in gerontology, specializing in Dementia, Personhood and Spirituality. I don’t know if I’ll get there. If my bank account could speak, it would definitively tell you “no, she won’t.” But I’ll tell you what. I’ve paid my dues to “no she won’t,” in my past life as a wallflower; shy and lacking the confidence God gave a mouse. I want my life to scream “yes she can!” And I want to help others’ lives scream the same thing.
Three years ago, I started my job with Scott Boulevard Baptist Church: a small, predominantly aging congregation in Metro Atlanta. I developed a program called Church at Home, which I now lead as one of our church’s most vibrant ministries. Church at Home is a home worship ministry wherein I and several volunteers from the church go into the homes of our isolated, homebound members, to have church with them.
We sing hymns, we pray, we hear a sermon and we have communion. This ministry has helped me gain the confidence I need to pursue a second Master’s degree; a Master of Science in Aging and Dementia Studies with a concentration in research which will hopefully propel me in the direction I need to go for future doctoral work in Gerontology.
I want my mark on the world to be my unique way of blending Gerontology and Theology to create a world in which dementia is not a death sentence, but an opportunity for creative engagement and expression. I long to see a world where caregivers and family members of senior adults dealing with dementia can enter creatively into the world of their loved one and know that there is still a person in there.
A world in which senior adults facing dementia can look into the eyes of a loved one and know they still have much to offer is an ideal for which I am prepared to work as hard as I can. This scholarship money, which would fund my studies at Texas State University would be instrumental in helping me get started.
What do you say? Wouldn’t you like to partner with a quirky pastor who has the well-being of your parents, grandparents and beloved elders at the center of her heart? Partner with me, help me fund my continuing education and let’s work together to see this world where senior adults are loved and respected; a world where dementia has a voice, a reality.