We are delighted to welcome John Noble as a new ambassador for Embracing Age. We asked John to share some of his story:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience of supporting a loved one with dementia.
Well Tina, that’s a challenge without writing a book! I’ve been in Christian ministry with my lovely wife for almost 60 years! We were married in 1958 and after seeing the folly of some involvement we had in the occult, we soon found the Holy Spirit at work in our lives as we were caught up with the Charismatic Renewal which emerged in the 1960s in a big way. Alongside bringing our five wonderful children into the world, we planted churches, shared in great conferences like Spring Harvest and developed a team to serve the church here in the UK and around the World.
Having been trained at the Royal Academy, Christine had a passion to see the arts functioning freely in worship and the church’s mission. With her team she pioneered the use of movement, drama and art which, with a strong prophetic element, enriched our gatherings at every level. She was greatly used in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and has seen many people delivered, healed and released into ministry. She also did much to gender self-esteem with women and encouraged them to pursue their God-given callings in work, home and church in whichever way the Lord was leading them.
Together we were a great team and spent many years serving the church from simple tribal village fellowships in Asia and Africa to the city churches of the West and beyond.
In 2011 Christine was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia and we were faced with the greatest challenge of our long and happy relationship. I was devastated and wanted everyone to know and pray for us, while Christine was inclined to be in a measure of denial. This immediately led to some tension and made it difficult to manage the inevitable adjustments the progression of the disease brought. Nothing I had been through in life had prepared me for the situation we found ourselves in and so began a massive learning curve for me.
I must admit that I didn’t always handle things very well as the Christine I knew seemed to fade away and a different Christine emerged. It was a Christine who didn’t behave and react the way she had done in the past and left me coming to terms with a disturbing range of emotions from bewilderment and confusion to hurt, anger and sadness. If it wasn’t for the support of a loving family, praying friends and a few people with experience who listened to my pain and took time to sympathise and gently give some words of counsel, I would not have survived.
Two days after my 80th birthday Christine was taken into care for a couple of weeks to sort out her medication which wasn’t working too well. It was the worst day of my life and I wept buckets. During her short stay she was seen to be in an advanced stage of disease and the assessor said that she was amazed that we had managed to cope for so long. So, Christine stayed in the home which was both a relief and a further devastation.
Why are you motivated to see more volunteers in care homes?
I have visited Christine every day for the last 22 months and watched her deteriorate to the point where she is immobile and has all but lost her speech. By God’s grace this experience has softened my heart and changed my understanding of those who have to cope or live with the disease.
I see the incredible commitment of so many carers, the majority of whom are immigrants. They work long shifts and the pay is not great. Every day they face the challenges of residents, most of whom are confused and concerned or totally dependent on their input and a few can be quite aggressive. Their time is taken up with the simple chores of dealing with the basic needs of feeding, washing and watching. Whilst many go the extra mile and try to spend time interacting with residents it is impossible for them to give the attention which would help to make life a little more bearable, especially for those who have no family or friends to visit.
I began to think about the difference a few volunteers, who have received a little training, could make to the lives, not only of the residents, but to the staff as well. I have seen how easy it is to get alongside folk to give them some assurance and a little love which brings light into their darkness and peace in their confusion. We have also made some real friendships with the staff who appreciate us being around and they are interested when we take time to share something of our experiences and faith.
There is another area where I see we can make a difference if we are sensitive. During one of my first visits to see Christine I was distressed and upset. A lady who was visiting her mother took a moment to come over to me and offer kind words of comfort and encouragement. During my daily visits I have had dozens of opportunities to do the same for other visitors who might be facing an emotional challenge with their loved one.
In our daily lives we find it difficult to engage with people who are busily going about their daily routines. However, when a life is turned upside down by the circumstances which bring them to a care home, they are vulnerable and open to receive a little love and tenderness which a caring volunteer might be able to offer.
When I discovered Embracing Age and all that you are doing, I was delighted and thrilled to know that my growing concern to see an army of volunteers supporting care homes across the UK was already being addressed a professional way. Thanks Tina for the amazing work you have started and more power to your elbow!
If you could give one piece of advice to the younger generation what would it be?
Sadly, over recent years in our society, community life is all but gone. The security and support communities provided has been dissipated. Family life has largely disappeared and people are more and more isolated. One tragic result of this is an ever-widening generational gap which breeds suspicion, fear and even anger and aggression between the young and old.
My advice to the younger generation which is emerging in this climate is, please take time to consider the long-term effects of perpetuating this situation. One day you will be old and will need love and support. So, with all the energy, hopes and aspirations you have, let us, together, find a way to buck the trend and reverse the divisions. Let us rediscover the incredible reservoir of wisdom and energy which reside in the two generations and see how this can be a force for positive change in this troubled world.