Ben Boland, an aged care chaplain, explains how to make the most of a day of remembrance
Let me introduce three hypothetical older people. Frank is a decorated, Lancaster Bomber pilot who flew over 60 combat missions, but he is wracked with guilt for his involvement in the bombing of Dresden. Betty’s beloved brother died in the Pacific theatre but she was only 16 when she was raped by an allied servicemen. David served in Korea, where he left a leg, his identity is still strongly linked to being a soldier. Clearly, Frank Betty and David have all been profoundly impacted by war. Equally their experiences are vastly different and their feeling about Remembrance Day are mixed.
So as Christians how we share Jesus love in the midst of Remembrance Day is a live question. Remembrance Day has a very strong Christian heritage as it was started when Australia was culturally a Christian country. Moreover, ‘Remembrance’ is a key theme throughout Scripture (e.g. ‘Remember the Lord your God’ & ‘do this in remembrance of me’). The importance of sacrificial death is also a core theological concept within Christianity. Thus being involved in or conducting Remembrance Day events is a great way to give thanks for and share the sacrifice of both service personnel and Christ crucified.
Christian involvement in Remembrance Day must also recognise the needs of the individual. Specifically it can be generally highly significant particularly for older people. For some Remembrance Day is a time of pride which they are very keen to be highly involved in. Supporting a person such as this may include assisting them to be able to attend events, to have appropriate clothing (typically formal) and ability to wear medals. If the person cannot attend such events in person consider helping them to be ‘virtually’ present either through radio, television or the internet. Or a person may find Remembrance Day highly traumatic, and will not want to engage with Remembrance Day in any way or to be busy with something else. Particularly for people whose heritage comes from our ‘enemies’ (e.g. Japanese, German & Middle Eastern) whose loves ones were interned or who died on the ‘wrong’ side may also find Remembrance Day challenging. So how can we care for each other and particularly older people whom we love?
The starting point is a personal reflection on Remembrance day, as care starts with self-care. Secondly, we need to carefully and gently engage with older people who we love to ask about their views and preferences regarding Remembrance Day. This sort of conversation should ideally happen well before Remembrance Day each year as this allows planning and preparation to occur.
Planning should not be limited to formal events (e.g. clothing, transport & appropriate access to facilities) but also consider the importance of rest and emotional support. For example, both a person who is highly involved in formal events and someone else who wants to simply stay in their room may find Remembrance Day exhausting. So, it is critical to provide both space and time for a person to retreat and rest (both after and before Remembrance Day). This is particularly critical for people living with dementia. Additionally, a person may need emotional support which could range from a listening ear to formal support from church, lifeline or a mental health plan which can be activated by a GP.
Friends may I encourage you to participate in Rememberance Day, but to do so in a way that shares Jesus love with the diversity of people in our community and specifically our older people.
We will remember them. Lest we forget.