Sunday Conversation with… Rev. Dee DonnellyGroup offers support for loved ones of those with Alzheimer’s or dementia
By Ann Hardie
The Rev. Dee Donnelly, a retired Lutheran pastor, led a theological book group for women for almost a decade. After her friend’s husband developed dementia, Donnelly’s expanded her ministerial work this past August to include a support group for caregivers with a family member with Alzheimer’s or dementia. What makes the group that meets weekly at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Peachtree Corners a little different is its focus is on the caregiver’s spirituality. “I figured out that caregivers are victims and asked, ‘What are we as a church doing about it?’” Donnelly said. “From what I had learned about dementia, I never heard anything about the spirituality of the caregivers, looking at the question, “Where is God in all of this?” The support group, which is confidential, free and open to the public, meets at the church at 10 a.m. on Thursdays. This Thursday, the group is hosting an open seminar with aging expert Laurie Hamilton. For more information, call Christ the King Lutheran Church at 770-449-1211.
Q: Can you talk more about how the group works?
A: We start by putting our hands face up to feel the Holy Spirit, to be quiet and be with God. I think people are getting accustomed to that and liking it. Then everybody likes to talk, not just about dementia and Alzheimer’s. People will spill out their needs.
Q: Who are the caregivers?
A: We have 18 people signed up — they are all women except for the two guys. We have one woman whose father has dementia, a husband whose wife has dementia but is in denial, someone whose husband is driving but shouldn’t be. The caregivers don’t all show up every week. My hope and my desire is that they can bring their person with them but that hasn’t happened yet.
Q: Can you talk more about caregivers as victims?
A: It may sound silly but I think people with Alzheimer’s are closer to God than we are. If you see Earth as a plane, they are on a different plane. The rules of Earth do not apply to people with dementia but they do for their caregivers.
Q: What do caregivers get from the group?
A: It feeds the soul. I considered making the meetings monthly but the caregivers said no. There are not a lot of places where you can share and be spiritual and go away filled with hope.
Q: You talk about spirituality. How do you define it?
A: Everybody’s spirituality is different. It is your whole being.
Q: Your group is nondenominational?
A: It is wide open.
Q: Does Alzheimer’s or dementia scare you?
A: If it happens, it happens. I don’t know what it takes away from our brain. I do know that we have to treat our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit — eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep.
Q: Has the group gelled?
A: Yes. Everybody is unique and yet we all have the same needs.
Q: What needs are those?
A: To be in touch and fill the empty spots within all of us, to look at God’s logic in this.
Q: Where is God in dementia?
A: I have no idea. I do know that God is powerful and works through us. I do know that spirituality is what draws us together. If you don’t have it with Alzheimer’s or any disease, what’s the point?
The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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